After clarifications, mayoral activities still suspicious
In regard to my recent opinion on Gladstone Mayor Tammy Stempel activities, some clarification has been requested which I will provide here.
ORS 294 requires that a Budget Committee, composed of the council and an equal number of citizens, be convened to review and approve the budget prior to the City Council adopting it. As such, the Budget Committee is not an optional or purely advisory process. The city cannot adopt a budget until the Budget Committee approves it.
The League of Oregon Cities Handbook is a good source of information on budgeting and documents the required Budget Committee well. It's easy to read and references ORS 294. Pages 8-10 to 8-14 describe budget process and the purpose of the Budget Committee: orcities.org/Portals/17/CityResources/LOCCityHandbook.pdf.
Prior to the Budget Committee meeting, a temporary fire-captain position was created and filled by the mayor's husband, Kirk Stempel. While the Council was informed of this, I don't believe the Council approved it. Since he was already in the position, a reasonable expectation could be made that he would ultimately be hired to fill that position permanently.
The mayor should have recused herself from the Budget Committee to remove any perception, legal or otherwise, of conflict or bias. Instead, she was actively involved in the Budget Committee process and voted on the budget that benefited her financially. ORS 244.040 suggests that this is an illegal activity by an elected official: oregonlaws.org/ors/244.040.
Since I was a Council member at the time, I was also on the Budget Committee. At the time, I voted for the budget since the majority of it was, in my opinion, a good value for the people of Gladstone. Before the final vote, I did voice my concerns about adding additional full-time employees to a city that was not growing. I asked staff to take that into account when they began working on the 2019 to 2021 biannual budget in the future. The Budget Committee's vote was unanimous in favor of approving the budget and submitting it to the Council for adoption.
I did not voice my opposition to Mayor Stempel's role on the Budget Committee because at the time I had not fully researched the issue. Having now done so, it is apparent from ORS 244.120 that it is the elected official's responsibility to recognize and acknowledge any "actual or potential conflict of interest" according to this state law: oregonlaws.org/ors/244.120.
Mayor Stempel had been involved in city government for many years as a Planning Commission member and then as the Planning Commission chair. She also attended the Leadership Boot Camp for Newly Elected Officials in December 2016 where ethics was one of the many topics discussed. She should possess a working knowledge of issues such as conflict and should not have to rely on others to point it out to her.
When my first opinion article on this subject was published on Aug. 2, 2017, the minutes from the April 17, 2017, meeting of the Gladstone Budget Committee were not on the city's website. Some confusion has resulted from this omission by the city. It's my hope that these minutes will be online by the time this second opinion article is published. When it is online, it will likely be posted on this web page: ci.gladstone.or.us/city-government/budget-packets.
After the Budget Committee approves the budget, it goes to the City Council where it is adopted. During the City Council meeting where the budget was adopted, Mayor Stempel, based on the strong advice of the city attorney, did recuse herself due to the conflict. Why she didn't recuse herself from approving the budget on the Budget Committee is a mystery, which ultimately makes her actions and intentions appear suspicious.
The Council voted in an open session on Jan. 24, 2017, to authorize the city attorney to negotiate with the tenants of the Portland Avenue property. The city attorney did not use this authorization and did not negotiate with the tenants. The Council did not vote in open session to authorize the mayor or any other party to negotiate with these tenants. No action has been taken by the Council in open session to explain why more than $50,000 of the people's money was paid to the former tenants or what the mayor's role was in any negotiations.
Gladstone City Council Rules Section H.2 specifically prohibit council members, including the mayor, from negotiating with "other parties" if the council has met in executive session:
"If the Council meets in executive session, members should attempt to provide direction or consensus to staff on proposed terms and conditions for negotiations. All contact with other parties must be left to the designated staff or representative(s) handling the negotiations or litigation. Council members may not have any contact or discussion with any other party or its representative nor communicate any executive session discussion."
It is my understanding that since no federal money was involved in the property purchase or that it was not condemned for public use that no relocation or other compensation was owed to the tenants. The purchase was from a private owner who was a willing seller. The purchase price was based on a market survey that was mutually agreed upon by the city of Gladstone and the seller.
Steve Johnson is a former Gladstone city councilor.