REDMOND, OR -- Oregon’s Government Ethics Commission launched a formal investigation, this month, into allegations a Redmond City Councilor tried to influence the approval of building projects. A local builder claims Anne Graham used her position to negatively influence permits for homes he was building in her neighborhood. According to the preliminary review, obtained by KBND News through a public records request, investigators found "Further investigation is needed to determine the extent of Ms. Graham's influence, if any, in these matters."
Oregon Government Ethics Commission Executive Director Ron Bersin tells KBND News a nine-person panel determined that enough information came out during the review
to conduct a formal inquiry. "They voted actually to move the case into investigation, so that’s where it currently sits. The investigation can last up to 180 days. At the end of that investigation, the commission will again meet, review that report, listen to the public official in this case; they’ll be able to address the commission."
Local homebuilder Kevin Fitzpatrick claims Graham worked directly with Community Development staff after she grew concerned his projects would lower the value of her home. Click HERE to read more about Fitzpatrick's allegations. According to the Ethics Commission, ORS 244.040 states in part, "A public official may not use or attempt to use official position or office to obtain financial gain or avoidance of financial detriment for the public official ... if the financial gain or avoidance of financial detriment would not otherwise be available but for the public official's holding of the official position or office."
During the preliminary review conducted by the Ethics Commission, Graham submitted a written statement to investigators:
"I do not recall receiving any written or oral instructions from the City Manager (or anyone) upon my election to City Councilor that I was required to proceed through the City Manager with respect to any communication with City employees. Neither does such guidance exist in the manual given me as I became a Councilor."
However, in a copy of that 322-page handbook obtained by KBND News, one section appears to address such issues:
"The Council shall work through the City Manager on City staffing issues. Individual Council Members shall not independently direct the work assignments of City staff."
If the Commission finds Graham violated ethics rules, Bersin says she could face thousands of dollars in fines. "The Commission uses an administrative rule penalty matrix to try and have some consistency in the sanctions they give out. So, it’s really up to the nine members where that sanction lies." Bersin adds, "If they do find a violation, then of course, the public official has appeal rights to that. That can take you through an administrative hearings officer, through the appellate court, it can go clear up to the Supreme Court; I mean, it rarely ever happens. Anytime during this process, the public official can negotiate a settlement - in other words, admit to what we are alleging - and then we have a negotiated settlement with them." Although, he acknowledges talk of financial penalties is premature, "The commission has not found any violations; they’ve just simply voted to move this into a full investigation."