City violates election laws?

Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer April 27, 2013 12:27 am

Curry County commissioners have filed a complaint with state election officials alleging Brookings city officials violated at least three state election laws.

But City Attorney Martha Rice disagrees.

The complaints were outlined in a letter dated April 16 and signed by County Commissioner Chairman David Brock Smith. 

The first complaint alleges that City Manager Gary Milliman directed Rice to draft a home rule charter for the county while working on her taxpayer-provided contract. And because the city council approved of the creation of the document, it could also be in violation of state law, Smith wrote in his letter to the state.

Milliman said in a written statement to Curry Coastal Pilot that at no time prior to the March 25 city council meeting did he, or anyone else, direct  Rice to craft a county charter.

Rice said her analysis is that violations of the kind alleged by the county  have been related to campaign expenditures.

She said “apparently (Smith believes) the city manager’s analysis of the tax measure constituted a public employee opposing the adoption of a measure while on the job during working hours.” But historically, she wrote, such violations have generally involved opposing actual campaigns.

“Mr. Milliman’s actions were not a campaign or concerted effort to oppose the measure,” Rice wrote. “The fiscal crisis ... is unprecedented ... and the city government would be doing its taxpayers a disservice by sitting idly by and failing to take an active role in preparing and analyzing how the current fiscal crisis will affect the city of Brookings and its residents.”

In regards to her working on the city’s time, Rice wrote, “The principal determination when dealing with general fund revenues for a general purpose government is whether the expenditures are sufficiently beneficial to the community as a whole to justify governmental involvement. The judiciary should invalidate expenditures only where reasonable men could not differ as to their lack of social utility.”

Rice wrote that Milliman was merely expressing his opinion when he said it didn’t make sense to  “prop up a bankrupt county government with a dysfunctional management structure.”

Additionally, making the draft charter document available to the public to pursue as a potential ballot initiative in an effort to improve local government “is beneficial to the whole community and justifies the relatively minor expense (of her time).”

Misleading statements?

The second allegation indicates Milliman misled the public in various statements he’s made regarding the county’s process of creating the ballot measure.

Additionally, Smith noted that Milliman has stated that the figures used to create the tax levy measure are “fundamentally flawed,” which resulted in the 13-cent tax rate difference between city residents and those living in unincorporated areas of Curry County.

Smith said he worked with numerous department heads, County Assessor Jim Kolen and Sheriff John Bishop to gather the figures used to determine the levy rates. But Brookings city councilors believe the numbers, based on the amount of county services used by all of Curry County’s city residents, don’t accurately reflect those uses.

County officials stand by their numbers, noting in a city council meeting that they were facing a deadline to get a ballot measure approved — and even forgot to include an item that will mean the proposed tax rate will result in a $500,000 deficit.

Smith also wrote that Milliman said “only one of the (19) recommendations (made by the citizens committee last year) was pursued (and it was) the placement of a property tax levy on the May ballot.”

“He states ‘if they’d conferred with us, we could have come up with a formula everyone agreed with; that didn’t happen,’” Smith wrote.

Smith noted that eight public meetings were held from Jan. 7 to Feb. 13 to discuss the county’s financial situation, including one on Jan. 28 during a Brookings City Council meeting held to “gather input and discuss a funding solution to avoid a public safety and fiscal catastrophe.”

Milliman said city officials only heard about the tax measure — and then from a city councilor in Port Orford — the day the county voted to put it on a ballot.

He also said the quotes attributed to him were reiterations of those of council members, and that he declined requests from Smith and levy supporter Bob Horel to try to get the council’s endorsement of the levy.