The emails read like something from the New York Post or The National Enquirer, not like messages that would be copied to the Eugene City Council, the mayor and the city manager. Former county administrator Liane Richardson’s ex-husband Mark Richardson fired off a volley of angry exchanges with his ex into the public record late in the evening of Oct. 23 and kicked off an investigation by the Eugene Police Department (EPD) and more questions about Liane Richardson’s tenure at Lane County.
The “he-said, she-said” argument between the Richardsons, who divorced in May, included allegations from Mark Richardson that his ex-wife had been having an affair with a Eugene police officer, Sgt. Matt Lowen, such as “according to Liane they had sex on the floor of the armory on his sweatshirt.”
Mark Richardson alleged the affair with Lowen “was in part conducted during his duty hours and included sex in a shuttered county building.” He also alleged the incident occurred after Liane Richardson went on a ride-along with Lowen. She responded to him and the city officials via email: “My ex has no proof of Matt Lowen and I doing anything inappropriate during Matt’s work hours or in any county-owned buildings, because nothing inappropriate happened during work hours or in any publicly owned properties.”
Melinda McLaughlin of the EPD says the department cannot comment ahead of the internal affairs investigation into the allegations.
Lowen was one of the officers involved in arresting homeless campers under the Ferry Street Bridge in April after police spray painted “No Trespassing” on the bridge. Liane Richardson was frequently criticized by homeless advocates for shutting down their protest at the publicly owned Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza, a shutdown that was found to be unconstitutional. In 2010 Lowen and the city of Eugene were sued by former EWEB commissioner and current County Commission candidate Joann Ernst over a police raid on her home. The suit sought damages for the use of “paramilitary activities, personnel, tactics and equipment” while executing a search warrant at Ernst’s home. The city paid Ernst $87,000 to settle the suit.
At the county, there is no investigation yet into any possible misuse of county funds, properties or other misconduct in regard to the emails because, according to Lane County spokesperson Anne Marie Levis, “The emails didn’t reference any misuse of county funds,” and she adds, “Also, Ms. Richardson has been fired.”
One of the county issues that did arise concerns Liane Richardson appointing Lowen, a non-county employee, to an internal committee on deferred compensation. Internal committees report to the county administrator and, according to Commissioner Pete Sorenson, often give advice on arcane technical issues. The issue of improperly using deferred compensation is part of what led to Liane Richardson’s termination three months ago.
Sorenson says Liane Richardson did not leave a list of how many internal committees she had, who was on them and if any other non-county employees were appointed. Acting County Administrator Alicia Hays is now trying to make such a list, Sorenson says.
On Nov. 3, Sorenson wrote an email to board Chair Sid Leiken that cited the “virtual refusal of the Board of Commissioners to oversee the operation of the county government.” He said the board over-delegated to the former county administrator and “time after time refused reasonable requests by me to improve this situation.”
Sorenson says he thinks it’s “worthwhile to express outrage at some of these revelations, particularly the point I raised about the abuse of the process involving the deferred compensation matter.”
At the Nov. 5 commission meeting, in response to Sorenson’s email, the board discussed such issues as the politicization of the county administrator’s position, or as he says, “the political way she did her job,” and the county’s failure to appoint an independent performance auditor. Sorenson says an internal auditor program is funded in the 2013-2014 county budget, but it’s not clear if an auditor will be appointed and who that person would report to — the commissioners or the county administrator.