Questions Over County Report

Though the investigation into former county administrator Liane Richardson’s violation of county policy was released weeks ago, and Lane County has signed an agreement with the controversial former employee mutually agreeing not to sue, the county contretemps is far from over. Questions linger over what information was blacked out in the report on Richardson’s pay alterations.

The report, which was conducted by USO Investigations and led to Richardson’s termination, looked only at one incident — the paychecks — not any previous issues. And the report was so heavily redacted that more than 30 pages were entirely blacked out, leading many in the community to wonder what the county might be hiding.

Commissioner Pete Sorenson emailed County Counsel Stephen Dingle on Sept. 27 to ask, “Why can’t the report be released, redacting only the names of employees? Why is there such an extensive redaction — pages and pages — when the board (at least I thought) said they wanted the report released as soon as possible?”

Commissioner Jay Bozievich, who in a recent editorial in the R-G denied Richardson’s allegations that he was the commissioner who suggested to her she could alter her pay, made a similar request about a release of information, according to an email from Dingle.

Dingle, in a lengthy response back to Sorenson, cited whistleblower protection for employees such as the one who called attention to Richardson’s machinations, attorney-client privilege and fear it would “expose the county to significant legal exposure” among his reasons for the heavy redactions. Dingle writes that he has told the county commissioners “I am not a policy maker. I employed a course in my release of the report that was intended to protect and respect the rights of our employees and protect the county from unnecessary liability.” He adds, “I have done nothing to this point that cannot be undone by the board.”

Dingle cites the case Springfield School District #19 v. Guard Publishing Company, which says, “The disclosure of a summary of a report or of a significant portion of the information in a confidential report can result in a waiver of the applicable exemption.” It continues, “The document itself need not have been disclosed to give rise to waiver, if the information contained in the report is equivalent to the disclosed information.”

Local attorney Marianne Dugan says that without seeing the non-blacked out version of the report, “I really can’t say whether his theory holds water,” but that “I would note, however, that in releasing a ‘summary,’ it seems to me he risks doing exactly what the court said.”