Campaigners backing a new board to take control of the city's water, sewer and stormwater systems have filed a second complaint against Mayor Charlie Hales' office. Like a complaint Portland Public Water District partisans lodged with the Oregon Secretary of State's office in February, the new accusation claims Hales staffers engaged in political campaigning on public time.
From the letter chief water district petitioners Kent Craford and Floy Jones sent to Secretary of State Kate Brown's office:
We understand that on Wednesday April 2, Josh Alpert, the Policy Director for Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, made a presentation against the Portland Public Water District initiative Measure 26-156 at the offices of Tonkon Torp. The campaign event was hosted by Tonkon attorney Janet Neuman. Mr. Alpert, a salaried employee of Mayor Hales acting in his capacity as the Mayor’s representative, used City resources on City time, likely including preparing for the presentation in addition to delivering it. This is a clear violation of ORS 260.432.
Tonkon Torp is a Portland lawfirm, and the circumstances around that alleged meeting aren't clear at the moment. Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, said the office does not have comment on the complaint.
Haynes himself is the subject of the earlier allegations, which are still under investigation according to secretary of state office spokesman Tony Green.
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. In fact, Hales is leading an effort to fight the water bureau campaign, which he paints as an attempt by big business—the primary backers of the water district—to purchase outsize influence in the city's water policy.
But Hales' staff is far more restricted in what they can say. Public employees aren't allowed to campaign during work hours. And for salaried workers like Haynes and Alpert, those hours aren't just 9 to 5 on weekdays.
In the case of the still-unresolved complaint against Haynes, water campaigners took issue with a press release Haynes wrote in his home over the weekend. The release largely dealt with a pending lawsuit over the city's use of sewer and water money, but included reference to the water campaign, saying: "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."
Even if substantiated, such complaints rarely lead to stiff penalties. In 2011, for instance, Portland Public Schools employees were fined $75 for illegally promoting a school bond. The maximum fine is $250.
Neither Tonkon Torp nor any of its attorneys appear to have donated to the Stop the Bull Run Takeover, the political action committee fighting the water district measure. But the PAC has reported some significant contributions of late.
Oregon AFSCME Council 75, which represents many Portland Water Bureau employees, has kicked in a second $10,000 to the effort. Local real estate investor Albert Solheim contributed $5,000.