The Oregon Secretary of State’s Office has issued a Notice of Proposed Civil Penalty against Jon Nelson, the Corvallis City Manager, and four other city employees for violating Oregon election law during last year’s referendum on the city’s telecommunication tax.
Oregon law prohibits public employees from promoting adoption or defeat of a measure while on the job during working hours, and forbids other persons from requiring public employees to support or oppose a measure.
According to the Secretary of State’s Office, the City Manager and other city employees illegally advocated in support of the telecommunications tax during work hours by sending biased newsletters to city residents, publishing biased materials on the city website, and publishing a biased explanatory statement on the city’s website after being told by the Secretary of State’s Office that it was against the law to publish the statement in the voters pamphlet. Although several city officials were found to have illegally advocated in support of the telecommunications tax, the Secretary of State found that City Manager, Jon Nelson was ultimately responsible for the illegal conduct.
Mr. Nelson and the other city employees have an opportunity to contest the civil penalties, but it is unknown at this time whether they will do so. Many organizations, such as the Taxpayers Foundation of Oregon have been vocal that city officials across the state have become increasingly aggressive in their efforts to support or oppose election matters affecting their city while on the job during work hours. While the penalties being assessed against the city officials in Corvallis are quite low, the Taxpayers Foundation of Oregon and other organizations hope the Secretary of State’s decision in Corvallis will deter city officials across the state from engaging in this type of activity in the future.
Here are some of the language faulted for not passing the impartiality rule when using taxpayer dollars to communicate election items with taxpayers.
“City Council is directing these funds to be used for critical and unavoidable fire department needs.”
(Nothing says impartiality like the word unavoidable)
“The need for fire apparatus is driven by the community’s desire to have an appropriate level of fire protection.”
(Telling the community what they want — Interestingly community rejected idea by 70%)
“Staff does not find this acceptable nor would our community”¦”
(Telling the community what they want part II)
“”¦the City Council had to take action to balance the budget.”
(Implying you can’t balance the budget without new taxes!)