Business & economy, Uncategorized

Findley blocks access to records on his rail funding efforts, invoking immunity

SALEM – State Sen. Lynn Findley doesn’t want to talk about his role in the unfinished Treasure Valley Reload Center.
Findley, a Republican from Vale, took the unusual step last week of invoking constitutional immunity to block a request for his state records on the Nyssa project.
He did so even as officials working on the rail project confirmed the senator is involved in asking for more state money. He is joined in that effort by state Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane.
Project managers say they need $5 million from the 2023 Legislature to cover costs and finish the project, which is behind schedule and over budget.
“My understanding is there’s a lot of movement afoot with Findley and Owens to secure five million from the state legislature,” according to Brad Baird, project engineer, in a presentation on Thursday, Feb. 9. He told of the request in a meeting of the board of the Malheur County Development Corp., the public company building the rail shipping center.
Findley told the Enterprise in an email in late January that “I have not made a decision on the issue” of seeking more money.

“There’s a list going around, well, you need another five or six million dollars. That’s simply not true.”

–State Sen. Lynn. Findley to legislators in September 2022

He invoked immunity after the Enterprise requested records from his legislative office about those funding efforts.
His role is significant because he sits on the powerful legislative budget committee. But he also assured legislators on the Emergency Board last September that the $3 million he was asking for then would be enough for the Nyssa project.
“I’m absolutely comfortable that this will finish the project,” Findley said at the time.
He had records showing otherwise.
“There’s a list going around, well, you need another five or six million dollars. That’s simply not true,” Findley told legislators then.
Legislators approved that extra award for the Nyssa project.
But shortfalls have been documented since then, and officials last week announced that while they have cut some spending, they still need $6.5 million to make the rail center run.
Findley last week blocked efforts to determine his role now. He didn’t respond to emails seeking comment and he acted to stop the public records request.
“If a member claims the in-session exemption, no records will be disclosed and the request will be closed. Senator Findley has claimed the in-session exemption. No records will be disclosed and this request is now closed,” wrote Johnson.
Johnson cited a state law that said that during legislative sessions, legislators aren’t covered by the Oregon Public Records Law, which provides citizen access to government records. That law notes that legislators have immunity for dealing with matters such as a public records request.
Legislators “shall not be subject to any civil process during the session of the Legislative Assembly,” according to the Oregon Constitution at Article IV.
Owens also was asked to disclose his state office records about the reload center.
He advised the legislative lawyer that he would comply with the request.
“I will not claim the exemption for this request,” Owens wrote to Johnson on Feb. 3. He asked the lawyer to work with his staff on the records and then “with the response, please provide that we are waiving our exemption for this request.”
What role Smith is playing at the Capitol regarding the new funding request couldn’t be established. Besides his paid work for the reload project, he is a state representative who is a vice chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which handles state budgeting matters.
Smith is in a powerful seat to guide legislative decisions on funding requests. He didn’t respond to questions about the matter. The House co-chair of the committee, state Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-Portland, didn’t respond to written questions about whether Smith had approached her about the new funding request.
State Sen. Elizabeth Steiner, D-Portland, the co-chair in the Senate, said through an aide that she has asked legislators to talk to chairs of budget subcommittees from their own chambers about such requests.
House Speaker Dan Rayfield said through an aide that he learned a new request was in the works from reporting by the Enterprise.
“He was under the impression that the allocation made by the E-board last year would be this project’s final request of the Legislature,” wrote legislative aide Jack Lehman. “He has not committed to support any request for additional funds.”

Editor Les Zaitz contributed reporting.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].


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