Should school officials reimburse taxpayers for illegal mailers?
We are heartened by yesterday's revelation (first posted on this blog) that the Oregon Secretary of State has found that Portland school district officials (including Super Carole) illegally campaigned for the May school tax bond measure with public funds. It's about time somebody took enforcement action against misconduct in Portland around election time.
Last April we were one of the first people, if not the very first, to question publicly what seemed to be a clear and brazen violation of state law by the district. (The O picked up on our complaint a couple of days later, and reached the same conclusion. Hey Andy, get your facts straight.)
Apparently the eight officials caught in the act are now planning to request a hearing to contest the state's findings. That's curious. The $75 fines that the state has meted out are ridiculously low. Why not just pay them and be done with it?
A reader points out that there's potentially more at stake. State law (ORS 294.100) provides in part:
(2) Any public official who expends any public moneys in excess of the amounts or for any other or different purpose than authorized by law shall be civilly liable for the return of the money by suit of the district attorney of the district in which the offense is committed, or at the suit of any taxpayer of such district, if the expenditure constitutes malfeasance in office or willful or wanton neglect of duty.
(3) On the demand in writing of 10 taxpayers of any municipal corporation with a population exceeding 100,000 inhabitants, filed with the tax supervising and conservation commission in the county in which the municipal corporation is situated, which demand sets forth that a public official has unlawfully expended public moneys in excess of the amount or for any other or different purpose than provided by law and that the expenditure constitutes malfeasance in office or willful or wanton neglect of duty, the tax supervising and conservation commission shall make an investigation of the facts as to the expenditure. If the tax supervising and conservation commission finds that public moneys have been unlawfully expended and that the expenditure constitutes malfeasance in office or willful or wanton neglect of duty, the commission shall proceed at law in the courts against the public official who has unlawfully expended the moneys for the return of the moneys unlawfully expended to the treasury of the municipal corporation. A right of action hereby is granted to the tax supervising and conservation commission for the purposes of this section.
And so if the violations in question here constitute "malfeasance in office" or "willful or wanton neglect of duty," the public officials in question (11 have been named by state, although only eight have been fined) could be held personally liable to pay for the school district's illegal mailers. One of the flyers sent out by the school board reportedly cost $36,500 to produce and mail out.
Maybe the guilty parties could do the right thing "for the children," and have the monies reimbursed from their pay. Super Carole, at last report, was pulling down $190,000 a year plus benefits.
Another question is who's going to pay for legal representation for the school officials. Surely they'll have lawyers helping them present their case at the hearings they want -- are taxpayers going to pay for that, too?
Funny thing, though -- there was no breathless press release from Secretary of State Kate Brown's office about last week's enforcement action. You would think that with all the public relations pieces her office sends out, there'd be something forthcoming about this extremely high-profile case. But nope -- nada.