State says officials did not violate election law

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer May 10, 2013 10:34 pm

The Secretary of State’s office has declined to investigate alleged violations of election laws by Curry County commissioners David Itzen and David Brock Smith, saying none of the three complaints “rise to the level of undue influence” under state law.

The complaint was filed May 6 by Thomas Huxley of the Curry County Republican Central Committee.

In it, he states Itzen and Smith showed up unannounced at a recent CCRCC meeting “to create an element of fear among those attending, to intimidate, coerce and pressure” CCRCC members to sign a resolution in support of the May 21 tax levy measure.

The tax levy asks voters to increase property taxes by $1.97 per $1,000 assessed valuation for those in unincorporated parts of the county and $1.84 per $1,000 for those living in city limits. The tax would raise an estimated $5.4 million to fund public safety.

CCRCC members signed the resolution, but Republican Chair Sue Gold later rescinded her support, writing in a letter to the Pilot that “my vote was based on fear and emotion rather than fact and logic.”

The “fear and emotion” element to which she referred, Huxley wrote, was the manner in which Itzen and Smith allegedly presented details of the proposed tax. The two said if “Measure 8-71 were not approved, the state of Oregon would come and take over county services, pass all costs to the citizens of Curry County, resulting in greater costs for county services.

“They continued with the fear element, saying the Port of Brookings Harbor and Harbor, Oregon, would also probably be taken over,” Huxley’s complaint reads. “The two commissioners controlled the CCRCC meeting for approximately one hour and in the end, left with the (prize) resolution of support for Measure 8-71 signed by all in attendance at that time.”

Another complaint indicated Itzen showed up at a meeting of the Curry County Republican Women’s and violated state “undue influence” of state laws by again stating what would likely occur if the measure fails.

Huxley also noted that Smith and Itzen were in violation of public meeting laws, as their presence together – representing two of the three county commissioners – justified a quorum and the CCRCC meeting was not a publicly noticed meeting held for the commissioners to discuss, vote or take action on anything.

In the complaint, Huxley lists various statements made at commissioner meetings regarding layoffs, cuts and possible state “takeover” if the levy fails.

But state elections officials noted that Oregon public meeting laws don’t pertain to election laws and are outside the jurisdiction of that division. The Oregon Department of Justice oversees public meeting laws.

Furthermore, wrote state compliance specialist Alana Cox, “undue influence means ‘force, violence, restraint or the threat of it, inflicting injury, damage, harm, loss of employment or other loss or the threat of it, or giving or promising to give money, employment or other thing of value.

“A person, acting either alone or with another person may not subject any person to undue influence with the intent to induce any person to … register or vote in any particular matter.”

She noted that Huxley did not say Smith or Itzen made threats to individuals that if they didn’t act in a certain way, something would befall those people.

“Instead, you allege the commissioners expressed the consequences they believe would occur if the measure did not pass,” Cox wrote. “Those consequences would presumably occur regardless of whether the people present voted in a particular manner or agreed to sign the resolution.”

Attending a meeting and asking for support of the measure – even if a person outlines what they believe would be the possible ramifications if it fails – doesn’t implicate a violation of state law, Cox continued.

“Mr. Huxley has been very critical of the commissioners’ office in the past,” Smith said. “This board is committed to be an open, honest and transparent government. Mr. Huxley would serve our citizens much better if he’d become part of the solution rather than – as former Commissioner TV Skinner told me last week – a rabble-rouser.”

“There was no substance to the complaint,” Itzen said “I think opponents of the tax levy see indications are good it’s (the levy) going to pass. I think they’re getting worried and taking desperate measures – this is a good example of that. This was an attempt to divert attention from what really needs to be done. I wish people who do this would spend more time on positive solutions to problems.”

The Pilot’s attempts to reach Huxley were unsuccessful.