On February 11, Mayor Charlie Hales unleashed a tirade of rhetoric aimed at a group that is both suing the city and backing a campaign to take Portland's water and sewer utilities out of City Council's hands.

"The anti-environment funders behind this suit are also behind a ballot measure to create a new layer of government to run the environmental services and water utilities," the mayor was quoted as saying in a news release. "If the facts aren't with you, and the law isn't with you, unlimited corporate money is a wonderful thing. It can be used to attack Portland's environmental investments again and again and again. It you don't like green programs, these are the best attacks money can buy."

It was by no means a surprising take from Hales, who's spearheading a campaign opposing the so-called Portland Public Water District. But it turns out the mayor never said it.

His spokesman and speechwriter, Dana Haynes, came up with the comments. Hales was a continent away.

"I crafted the quote and shared it with the mayor via email to South Africa," Haynes wrote this week to a Secretary of State's Office employee looking in to the release. "He OK'd it. This is a standard method used in our office for many quotes."

That "standard method" may have bearing on whether Hales' office violated Oregon law. As an elected official, the mayor is free to make comments on political campaigns, so long as he doesn't use public resources to do so. But Kent Craford and Floy Jones, chief petitioners behind the Portland Public Water District, say that's exactly what happened in the case of the February 11 release.

The pair filed a formal complaint with the state the next day, claiming Hales violated a state law prohibiting public employees from promoting or opposing political measures "while on the job during work hours."

"The PPWD campaign has requested Secretary of State Kate Brown investigate and demand an immediate halt to Hales' further abuse of office," the campaign said.

The February 11 press release actually centered on an upcoming hearing in the case of Anderson v. City of Portland, in which angry ratepayers are demanding the city pay back utility revenues spent on projects they argue were improper. Beyond Hales, it quoted Commissioner Nick Fish as saying the lawsuit "lacks merit." But it also folded in references to the water district measure, which would create a new seven-member board to control the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services.

"The high-powered corporate lobbyist behind this lawsuit also represents the chief petitioners in a corporate-funded ballot measure to strip the City of its Environmental Services and Water bureaus," the release said.

On February 19, Secretary of State elections staffer Alana Cox sent Haynes an inquiry letter about the release. It asked, among other things, if Haynes had written the document, who else was involved, and for background on the quote from Hales.

Haynes said officials decided to send out the release on February 3, in a meeting involving Fish, BES Director Dean Marriott, water bureau Director David Shaff, Hales aide Jackie Dingfelder, staffers in Fish's office and two city attorneys. The topic of the release was to be the court case, he said.

"After I drafted the press release on Feb. 8, 2014, City Attorney Tracy Reeve and Deputy City Attorney Terry Thatcher read the press release in a draft form and in a final draft form, and offered legal advice regarding the law suit, which I adopted," Haynes wrote. "Commissioner Fish also read the press release and offered wording advice, which I adopted."

Haynes says he wrote the release on February 8, a Saturday, "when City Hall and city offices were closed because of snow and freezing rain."

Asked if he was "directed" to issue the release, Haynes said no. "I offered to write the press release. Mayor Hales was in South Africa at an environmental conference."

Two of Cox's five questions centered around the Hales quote, which comprised the sixth paragraph of the press release. Was Haynes directed to include it? It what context was it made?

"The topic of the press release—and paragraph 6—is the law suit against the City," Haynes wrote. "The people behind the law suit also are the people behind a ballot measure. The point of Paragraph 6 was to bring that to light."