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Lawsuit Alleges County Violation of Meetings Law

 The question of whether Lane County Commissioners Sid Leiken, Jay Bozievich and Faye Stewart violated open meetings law with a May 3 emergency meeting that did not provide 24 hours notice is now in the hands of the Oregon courts.

Attorney Marianne Dugan filed the suit June 29 on behalf of Commissioner Rob Handy. The suit seeks a judge’s declaration that decisions made during the meeting were made illegally and seeks costs and attorneys’ fees from the three commissioners, not the county itself. It also seeks a declaration that the commissioners named in the suit violated Oregon law when they held the meeting and did not release the minutes.

Emails that Dugan obtained through a public records request show that the conservative majority of the board through emails and phone calls decided to have a meeting about whether to release public records in regard to allegations of wrongdoing against Handy. But progressive Commissioners Pete Sorenson and Handy were not contacted until less than an hour and a half before the 9 am meeting on May 3. The three conservatives then voted to release the documents.

The emergency meeting was held in response to allegations that Handy illegally asked for contributions for his debt that came about as a settlement over a timber company-financed open meetings lawsuit. Handy said he had previously checked with the county’s finance department regarding the legality. He said the release of the documents was timed to maximize the damage that would be done to him in the May 15 primary election, which would take place before he could be cleared of wrongdoing. Handy lost to conservative City Councilor Pat Farr.

Commissioner Jay Bozievich has denied receiving advance notice of a meeting, saying in a June 7 email “the matter was referred to legal counsel and we were waiting for advice as of 7:09.” Bozievich also said in the email that in the future he would only comment to EW if a public records request is filed. Lane County charges for public records requests.

Bozievich also forwarded emails that did not come to light in Dugan’s public records request that appear to show part of the impetus for the hurried meeting was a request from conservative talk show host Bill Lundun. Farr appeared on Lundun’s radio show before the election.

Leiken and County Administrator Liane Richardson did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. The County Commission was not in session this week due to the July 4 holiday. Stewart said he was unable to comment as he had not yet seen the suit or heard back from legal counsel.

Under Oregon law there must be justification in the minutes of the meeting for emergency meetings arranged with less than 24 hours notice. The minutes of the May 3 meeting have not released, the suit says.

In other county news, according to attorney David Force, the Oregon Court of Appeals agreed with the Lane County’s contention that an appeal of the controversial voter redistricting was moot, since the election utilizing the redrawn North Eugene district was held in May, and its result cannot be changed regardless of the legality.

The changes to voter boundaries, which opponents say favor conservative candidates, was approved by the board’s conservative majority of Leiken, Bozievich and Stewart.