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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

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.

Comments (29)

Great follow through, Jack. It is this kind of investigative, fact-based journalism that is so lacking in the O. I feel like 99 percent of what I know about local news is from reading this blog. The other one percent is what I see with my own eyes.

I think their General Counsel, Jollee Patterson, should pay all the fines and penalties. After all, as the staff attorney the other employees would have deferred to her opinion, and she waved the mailers through. As she pulls down $118 large, she can afford it.

Too bad the penality isn't more NCAA like. In this case, since the superintendent also violated the law with other top executives of the School District; the school district would be barred from asking for any tax/fee measures for two years, retroactive to the date of the violation (so no May 2011 op's levy either...i,e have to return all rewards and trophies). somehow $75 is akin to getting a $5 fine for parking illegally.

Seems like the same issue could have been raised about some of the propaganda that came out of various governmental agencies in the run-up to the Measure 66/67 vote.

Rico, anyone?

"Another question is who's going to pay for legal representation for the school officials."

I wish there was truly some question there, but we all know the answer. And we'll pay more for their legal defense than we can recoup if the suit is successful.

But we need to do it out of principle.

"On the demand in writing of 10 taxpayers"

Where do I sign up?

Since Snards is Taxpayer #1, then I'll be #2. 8 more to go....

I think Snards has it right. I believe a lot of the malfeasance we've been witnessing was probably first run by legal counsel and given a green light based on the calculated risk that because the economy was tanked, because people were fearful or jobless or homeless, because money was scarce, now was the time to strike and point fingers later in the unlikely event of consequences.

How much more obvious does it have to get that local area politics and administration are infested with people who lack in judgement and principles and do whatever they believe they can get away with?

The TSCC would ask PPS for information, then invite you to a little meeting in a little room when they decide whether to do something about it. There are loyal plants on the commission, and they may speak gibberish. Bring a recording device. The TSCC will likely still interpret taxpayer to mean real property owner.

I'll be the third signer if someone let me know where. 7 more to go.

I suspect the first round of holding elected officials and bureaucrats accountable would send a wake-up call to make all them think a bit harder about their end runs of the law and their fiduciary and other duties to taxpayers.

I am a real property owner and I can deliver 4 more real property owners (friends or neighbors) with just a couple of phone calls and no other effort. I know there is a lot more anger out there.

And what is the TSCC?

TSCC = Tax Supervising and Conservation Commission

It is very small operation. Be nice.

I'll sign as well and am a real property owner. (I'm not sure if I count while I live in Portland I'm not in the PPS taxing area.)

Geez nag, you assume a lot. But just for that, you deserve a bit of an etymology lesson. Nice and ignorant come from the same Latin roots. Since I am not ignorant, I will let you draw your own conclusions.

...do whatever they believe they can get away with?


Give somebody an inch and they'll take a mile.
something that you say which means that if you allow someone to behave badly at all, they will start to behave very badly I'm always wary about making concessions to these people. Give them an inch and they'll take a mile.

Am afraid that is what happened in pdx, they got away with so many inches that it turned into leaps and bounds into miles...
like a run away train.

The school district is its own municipality, so it needs to be taxpayers within the school district, not just the city.

To be safe, it should probably be owners who directly pay property taxes to the school district, even though we know that renters pay taxes indirectly as well.

Some legislators want to eliminate the TSCC. They are not nice. Be the friend of the TSCC, not the enemy.

clinamen, around here we simply call that the Randy Leonard Effect.

nag - Anyone who holds government accountable is my friend.

And I will repeat, I can deliver myself and 4 other property owners within the PPS jurisdiction.

It's almost time to have a Bojack meet and greet, I think.

I'll sign.

Right after the Sec of State issues a final order upholding the preliminary findings and imposing the civil penalties, or after the time for the respondent's to ask for a hearing expires.

Until then, there is nothing to act upon in the form of a ten (10) district taxpayer petition.

Where when is the "Meet and Greet".

Sounds like enough PPS taxpayers are willing to sign a district petition that as soon as the SoS issues the final order this needs to be revisited and a "Meet and Greet" set.

How's this scenario?...

"Well, it looks like that slap on the wrist penalty has attracted attention we didn't want. You'd better make sure their hearing gets granted and this whole thing goes away or there'll be a price to pay. "

I guess we'll just to wait and see what happens next.

How much interest is there for a Meet and Greet Nonny? I'd do it if there was enough. We'd need a place with a room or decent sized area to call our own. I know some of the McMenniman's pubs could do that. Not sure where else would work. And to be fair to the place we go, we'd need to provide a preliminary head count with a date to see if they'd be up for accommodating us. I've done some event planning before and I'd like to make sure we play fairly with whoever ends up hosting this thing.

Jack, I don't suppose we could prevail upon you to create a post for the BoJack meet and greet. This would allow us to gauge interest and do some planning.

teresa - my idea for a BoJack Meet and Greet goes beyond this one issue - just to be clear

LucsAdvo- I have been wondering when this site would somehow generate a more actionary side. From comments people post over time,it seems that a certain amount of people do take action or have in the past; however more often than not I am frustrated by all the words and little if any direction to make changes.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I don't think the TSCC or any other authority will see this as "willful or wanton neglect of duty" if the counsel in the case actually signed off on the fliers. In that case, this will probably just go away, as the Oregon bar is unlikely to sanction the attorney over a legal interpretation issue.

However, the real fireworks will start if at some point the PPS attorneys warned against this and the superintendent and others pushed and pushed until they got the advice they wanted. The problem is that the smoking gun in this case will be emails between the super and PPS attorneys -- which will be exempt from disclosure under the attorney-client exemption. So it might take a leak, or maybe an accidental email between two of the employees that didn't include an attorney, for this to see the light of day.

teresa - I agree with you. My activist days are mostly in the past. However, the way things are going, it might be time to harken back to by-gone days.

It takes a certain amount of momentum and conviction and belief that the change you'd like to see will result in order for people to mobilize, organize, and take collective action. One of the reasons, I am not shy about engaging the right wingers who believe in fiscal responsibility is that I believe some of the rest of their agenda is not in the best interests of social liberals.

The thing of it is until we actually sit down and talk and get to know each other, mostly all this site can be is a b*tch fest.

Which is why every so often I throw out the idea of a BoJack get together.

If this measure had passed, would this violation impact the outcome?

and how?

What are the limitations of reimburseable expenditures?

and election results?

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