Clackamas County Board Chair Jim Bernard changed his mind over the Jan. 18 weekend and submitted a check to the county administrator on Jan. 21 for the remaining legal fees he accumulated from his defense against ethics violations.
Bernard paid the remaining $20,912.05 in legal fees last week. He had earlier paid $5,000 of the nearly $26,000 total bill and had asked the county to pay the rest.
Earlier this month, the county's board of commissioners had agreed to use taxpayer money to pay the majority of Bernard's attorney fees, but County Commissioner Martha Schrader switched her vote on the issue, instead agreeing with Commissioner Paul Savas.
In an interview on Jan. 17, Bernard said he didn't have any liquid assets and wasn't sure what to do to raise it. But on Jan. 18, Bernard called the Canby Herald office to tell reporters that he'd changed his mind and would pay the fees himself through his line of credit. He also made it clear on both Friday and Saturday that "…I was unjustly accused."
The fees stem from an Oregon Government Ethics Commission focus that he had inappropriately used his position urging county leaders to hand over minutes from an executive committee meeting to his wife, Danielle, who worked for the county's tourism department. Ethics Commission leaders did not fine Bernard for the violations, but rather sent him "letters of education" after finding that violations has occurred.
Bernard told County Administrator Gary Schmidt and the other commissioners at the Jan. 21 meeting that he also had begun to research insurance for the commissioners, "…so that if something like this happened again, they would be able to help the commissioner."
"I've also been on the phone with a board of director at an insurance company. This is something we need to address," Bernard said at the board meeting. "The cost of these complaints is a problem and I'm concerned that paying my legal fees could set a precedent and could stymie leadership and harm leaders in the future with the best of intentions," he told the commissioners.
Bernard also has asked the county's attorney to research board insurance and/or legal responsibility should something like this come before the board in the future. Other commissioners expressed that they were in favor of the idea.
"The complaint — which I vigorously disputed — was wide ranging, alleging multiple violations of Oregon ethics laws occurring over years at budget committee meetings, executive sessions, study sessions and in emails. The complaint required my attorney to plow through literally stacks of emails, hours of audio recordings of public meetings and meeting notes to respond to numerous issues…" he wrote in a letter to fellow commissioners.
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