The race for the North Eugene seat on the Lane County Board of Commissioners has become a brawl, with revelations of drunk driving and allegations of wrongdoing flying right and left.
An “emergency meeting” last week, attended only by the commission’s conservative majority and County Administrator Liane Richardson, resulted in a swift vote to release to the media information related to allegations against incumbent Commissioner Rob Handy. Handy calls the allegations a “smear tactic.”
The allegations that Handy illegally requested money to help pay off a debt incurred by a timber-funded open meetings lawsuit were presented in a letter from attorney Alan Thayer representing Eugene businessman and EWEB Commissioner John Brown. According to the R-G, Thayer and Handy’s opponent in the North Eugene race, Pat Farr, are good friends.
Handy said he checked with the county’s finance department before asking supporters to assist with the debt.
Under Oregon law, emergency meetings may be held without the required 24-hour advance notice. The statute says, “In case of an actual emergency, a meeting may be held upon such notice as is appropriate to the circumstances, but the minutes for such a meeting shall describe the emergency justifying less than 24 hours’ notice.”
Handy’s attorney, Marianne Dugan, has initiated a public records request in regard to the county’s communications about the emergency meeting, drafts of Thayer’s letter and communications between Thayer, Brown and Farr, and county employees.
The email received by the press giving notice of the emergency meeting was time-stamped 7:42 am May 3. The meeting was held at 9 am that day. An email was sent out to county employees notifying them of the issue by 9:45 am.
Senior Assistant County Counsel Stephen Dingle said in an email, “Oregon Public Meeting law recognizes the need for emergency meetings. ORS 192.640(3). Given the type of notice provided and that the subject matter of the meeting was confined to the topic that caused the emergency, I don’t see a violation of the letter or spirit of the law.”
The meeting’s agenda listed “public records request” as the meeting’s topic. Lane County has not yet responded to EW’s request to explain what made the meeting an “emergency,” and the emergency designation does not appear to be explained in the video of the meeting available on the Lane County webpage. The minutes have not been released as of press time, though minutes of the board meeting the day before are available on the web.
Handy said at a Thursday press conference that the allegations were timed to hurt him in the May 15 election, for which voting is already under way. He said that the timing “was coldly and cynically planned to make sure that when the truth comes out, the election will be over.” He added, “If he was truly concerned about my behavior in this matter, he would have filed a complaint months and months ago after my request of him for a donation.”
Though the handwritten note that spurred the allegations was received by John Brown months ago on Feb. 21, he and Thayer waited until shortly before the May 15 election to release the information, Handy said.
Handy said the allegations were also timed to detract from the recent revelation that his opponent Pat Farr was convicted of drunk driving after blowing a .32 — four times the legal limit of .08 that leads to a DUI conviction.
According to a letter from Handy’s attorney, Dugan, to the Department of Justice, “Criminal charges would require probable cause that Mr. Handy violated the relevant statutes willfully … there does not appear to me to be any evidence of willfulness on Mr. Handy’s part, and I urge that the criminal investigation be quickly terminated in Mr. Handy’s favor on that ground if none other.”
Dugan wrote that she was disturbed that the DOJ investigators “did not seem to understand some very basic and central factual and legal points,” and that she was troubled that one of the investigators did not appear to be coming to the investigation with an open mind.
Dingle, the county’s supervising attorney, who is a recent hire, previously worked for the DOJ.
This is not the first time the liberal minority of the county commission has been targeted in what has been called “the politics of personal destruction.” Handy said he will be exonerated, but pointed out that won’t happen until after next week’s election.