State dismisses election complaints

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer June 26, 2013 06:33 am

The state elections division has ruled that complaints against Brookings City Manager Gary Milliman regarding his activities in the weeks leading up to the failed property tax measure are unfounded.

County Commissioner David Brock Smith filed three complaints with the state this spring several weeks before the May 21 property tax ballot question. Voters rejected the measure by a 56 to 44 percent margin.

The complaints alleged Milliman violated three laws with his involvement in a proposal to change the county charter, statements quoted in the Pilot newspaper about the property tax question, and a meeting he had with the governor to discuss the possible ramifications of its failure and a House Bill currently being debated to address that.

“This activity is outside the purview of the law because it is only a concept and not yet a measure or petition,” wrote Alana Cox, a compliance specialist with the state elections office in regards to any changes that might be made to the county’s charter. “It is allowable for public employees to research the possibility of future measures. There is no requirement that the future measure be related only to the specific jurisdiction” – meaning it is permissible for a city employee to research the ramifications of, say, a state or county measure.

Another complaint regarded quotes in the Pilot newspaper, which Milliman said were paraphrased and were summaries of council comments made regarding the property tax.

Cox said Milliman was not in violation of law when he said, “Ultimately, it will be up to the county and the voters to decide.”

“There is insufficient evidence that you did not provide enough balance in your comments,” Cox wrote in the decision, “because you note that the quotations were part of larger conversations about the measure and how it may affect Brookings.”

A third complaint filed by Smith in May related to a meeting Milliman and other elected officials had with the governor regarding Measure 8-71. Some of the elected officials with him were shocked when Milliman sent a pre-written press release, with their comments within, about the meeting.

“The press release only notes that Measure 8-71 was discussed in the meeting and does not indicate support or opposition for the measure,” Cox wrote. “There is insufficient evidence that you supported or opposed the measure in connection with that meeting or the press release.

“Not finding a violation of election law,” Cox wrote, “the Elections Division determines this investigation is closed and does not intend to pursue this matter further.”