VALE – A former Vale resident has asked the Oregon Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into Nyssa’s rail project and Greg Smith, former Malheur County economic development director.
A “cascade of relationships, decisions, and missteps, compounded by a practice of managing information about this project by limiting public disclosure, would appear to warrant your investigation,” according to a July 28 letter to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum from Larry Seaquist, a former Washington state legislator who grew up in Vale.
Smith, from Heppner and himself a state representative, was the county’s economic development director until he quit his contract in June following a series of investigative reports by the Malheur Enterprise. He continues to manage the delayed Treasure Valley Reload Center.
Seaquist also sought an investigation by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, which declined to act.
In his letter seeking the criminal investigation, Seaquist noted “continued concerns” about the project and the people supporting it. He recently disclosed the letter to the Enterprise.
“It is not illegal to be incompetent. But it appears to be possible violations of law by members of the county court, by Representative Smith as MCDC executive director, and by members of the MCDC Board to refuse to disclose information about the cascade of problems and decisions to the public,” Seaquist wrote.
Smith did not respond to emails seeking comment.
Grant Kitamura, the president of the Malheur County Development Corp., said he unaware of the complaints by Seaquist and “I’ve never heard of him.”
Kristina Edmunson, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Justice, confirmed her agency received Seaquist’s letter and the agency is reviewing it.
Seaquist initially outlined his concerns to the state Justice Department in June.
Seaquist asserted Smith was improperly “trafficking” his elected status for personal gain, that there was improper management by the development company directors and board, and inadequate oversight of the development corporation by other county officials.
He complained that Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, had not investigated “long-continuing irregularities” regarding the project.
Seaquist also reached out to the state ethics commission regarding the rail project in June and August.
Seaquist asked the commission to review Oregon law regarding financial conflicts of interest and prohibited use of a public office for personal gain in connection to the rail project.
Ron Bersin, commission executive director, responded that he saw no apparent violation of ethics laws in the material provided by Seaquist.
Seaquist then asked Bersin to examine Smith’s “other existing or past contractual relationships” and asserted they require an ethics review.
Bersin replied Aug. 22 that “there is no requirement in Oregon government ethics law for a public official to seek what you term as an ‘ethics review.’”
Seaquist served in the Washington House from 2007 to 2014.
Seaquist said his interest in the rail reload center was aroused as he read the Malheur Enterprise coverage.
“I started reading the Enterprise two or three years ago, just as a hometown boy trying to keep up,” said Seaquist.
Seaquist said he expected more of a response from the attorney general’s office.
Seaquist said he also watched Smith interact with county officials online several times during meetings.
“I thought he was trafficking on his official status which led me to go to the ethics folks,” said Seaquist.
Seaquist said he was also troubled by the work of the Malheur County Court regarding the project.
“They are the ones that created this MCDC. They have formal oversight and they often appear to have not even done the minimum diligence to understand what is going on,” said Seaquist.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].
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