AROUND OREGON: Oregon Ethics Commission reviews allegations against Baker County commissioner

BAKER CITY – The Oregon Government Ethics Commission voted unanimously Friday, June 11 to make a preliminary finding that Bill Harvey, chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners, violated state ethics laws last year.

A member of the Ethics Commission, Sean O’Day, told Harvey, who participated in the meeting by phone, as did Ethics Commission members, that he hopes the Commission will “emphasize education” rather than taking punitive action against Harvey.

“I have a great appreciation for rural Oregon, and the job of a county commissioner is a difficult one,” O’Day said. “You’re out there hauling equipment and taking care of the county’s business as well.”

O’Day went on to note that Oregon’s ethics laws do apply equally to all public officials.

He said that although he expects the Commission will conclude the case by finding that Harvey committed violations, “I do hope that as we move on to the next phase of the case, which will be to determine appropriate consequences, that the emphasis will be on education.”

Harvey, in a phone interview Friday afternoon, said he hopes the Commission will agree with O’Day’s call for education rather than sanctions of some sort.

In an email to the Herald, Susan Myers, an Ethics Commission investigator who looked into the allegations against Harvey, wrote that Harvey can appeal the preliminary findings.

Harvey said he looks forward to presenting more information at a hearing.

The Commission’s preliminary finding Friday concurs with Myers’ conclusion that Harvey violated a state law prohibiting public officials from using their position for their own or a relative’s financial gain, and a law regarding public officials who have conflicts of interest.

Myers wrote in her report that “a preponderance of evidence” indicates that Harvey violated the two laws.

The investigation was prompted by a complaint that Greg Baxter, Baker County district attorney, filed with the Ethics Commission in September 2020.

Myers investigated three issues:

• Harvey’s hiring of his son to help haul docks to the county-owned Hewitt Park near Richland, for which his son was paid $1,710.

• Harvey’s proposal, which he later withdrew, to hire his son to help with remodeling of the county’s new health department building.

• Harvey’s reimbursements from the county for mileage and meal expenses while he was working at the Hewitt and Holcomb parks.

In a written response he submitted to the Ethics Commission, Harvey requested that the Commission issue him a warning for approving the payment to his son for hauling the docks, and a warning for the health department building issue.

He wrote that it is “absurd” to believe that he used his position to benefit himself.

Harvey requested that the Ethics Commission dismiss all allegations related to reimbursements for mileage and meals.

Myers contends that Harvey received about $535 more than he should have under the county’s policy because he was reimbursed at a rate of 54.5 cents per mile for using his own pickup truck even though county vehicles were available. In that case the reimbursement rate is 35 cents per mile.

But Harvey argued that because none of the three county vehicles available is a truck, none was sufficient for hauling materials to the county parks.

Ethics Commission member Amber Hollister said she understands Harvey’s point.

As the daughter of a construction company owner, Hollister said she recognizes that some vehicles aren’t suitable for every task.

This story published with permission as part of the AP Storyshare system. The Malheur Enterprise is a contributor to this network of Oregon news outlets.