The Albany City Council decided Monday at its work session that each of the six councilors, and the mayor, would write a personal check of $10.72 to the secretary of state's office to cover a $75 electioneering fine levied against City Manager Wes Hare.
Hare was penalized last week over an October 2013 press release regarding a bond election that was in progress. The state determined the release not to have been impartial and thus a violation of Oregon law.
State officials were responding to a complaint filed by Albany resident Gordon L. Shadle, an opponent of the police and fire bond measure, which was defeated.
Also fined over the release was Marilyn Smith, the city’s public information officer, but on Monday the state rescinded her fine. Hare had written to the state explaining that Smith’s role in the six-sentence release was only clerical and asked that she not be punished.
Under Oregon law, elected officials such as city councilors are allowed to express public opinions on elections affecting the taxing entity they work for; non-elected staffers in the course of their jobs are not.
The release, dated Oct. 22, noted that the City Council had voted unanimously to hold public meetings regarding design and construction proposals for new police and fire facilities, and that Police Chief Mario Lattanzio and Fire Chief John Bradner should pick members of separate panels to review proposals for each facility.
The release’s last paragraph read, “Voting is underway on a 20-year general obligation bond measure that would provide $20.3 million to be used to replace both Albany Fire Station 11 and the Albany Police Department building. The election ends Nov. 5, 2013.”
The secretary of state’s office said the release constituted “advocacy” because it did not spell out the cost of the bond measure to individual taxpayers.
Late last week, Hare said he planned to appeal, but with Smith off the hook, he decided to let the matter drop.
Nevertheless, the council and Jim Delapoer, the city attorney, discussed fighting the fine on principle before deciding a more effective strategy for their overall goal — electioneering law clarification and reform — would be paying the fine in the manner proposed by Councilor Rich Kellum and enclosing a letter of protest.
“It means a lot to know the people you work for care,” Hare said.
Smith also thanked the councilors for their support.
“Citizens need to know their administrative staff is not guilty of anything,” Councilor Floyd Collins said.
Delapoer’s overarching point was that as currently enforced, electioneering law is an unconstitutional impingement on free speech.
“It’s not tested because they levy these small, de minimis fines, and then the problem is you can’t justify fighting it,” he said.
Delapoer guessed it would cost the city between $5,000 and $20,000 in legal bills to contest the fine with an administrative law judge and then, likely, the Oregon Court of Appeals.
“If we lost,” he said, “at least the Court of Appeals opinion would mean having better guidance.”
In the end, councilors decided to pay the fine and push for reform via the mid-valley’s legislative contingent.
Follow Steve Lundeberg on Twitter, @AnyGivenLundy