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Law Triggers Officials' Resignations

POLK COUNTY - At least 10 area planning commissioners have quit their volunteer positions this month, unhappy over a new state law that asks public officials to give the state more information about t

POLK COUNTY - At least 10 area planning commissioners have quit their volunteer positions this month, unhappy over a new state law that asks public officials to give the state more information about their possible conflicts of interest.

The new Statement of Economic Interest, which was due April 15, prompted two Dallas, two Monmouth and six Polk County planning commissioners to quit, most saying they did not want to reveal private family financial information to the State Ethics Commission.

That left Polk County without a planning commission on April 15 and 22. Just one commissioner, Jack Condon, is left. Chairman Robert Slyh, Gerald Freeman, Don Durhkopf, Phillip Green, Jim Morrison and Wayne Simmons all handed in letters of resignation between April 10 and April 15.

County Commissioners will meet today (Wednesday, April 23) at 9 a.m. to discuss options for continuing the commission's work. One option is to appoint new commissioners, but there may be others, according to Polk County Commissioner Tom Ritchey. The meeting is open to the public.

Mike Lough, former Dallas planning commissioner, turned in his resignation this month after serving on the city commission for 18 years. So did John Davis. On the Monmouth commission, John Rutherford and Brock Wallace resigned.

"The requirement of listing all earnings from all members of the household is ridiculous and not needed," said Wallace in his letter of resignation.

On the new form, all Oregon officeholders must list not only their own sources of income, but also the sources of income of their household members and family members. They must reveal whether they got money from lobbyists, they must disclose property holdings and they must list specific types of debt, investments and service fees.

While the previous form asked for similar information annually, the new form seeks more extended information quarterly from the public official and the official's family or household members. The new rule also extends to officeholders in 97 cities and six counties (most in Central and Eastern Oregon) who did not formerly have to file any ethics statements.

"I believe in the ethics commission, but they were finally asking for too much information," Lough said.

Polk County officials are not alone in their concerns. Statewide, volunteer city councilors, commissioners, county elected and appointed officials - the majority of whom are unpaid - are quitting in droves over new requirements.

Lough, a former real estate appraiser who worked in the Yamhill County Assessor's office until he retired, said he has nothing to hide. "But the state is finally asking for too much."

So many officials raised a fuss before the deadline that Gov. Ted Kulongoski wrote an open letter to officeholders, defending the new rule. Kulongoski said that volunteer officials are essential to Oregon's citizen-led government, but even so. Oregonians are entitled to an open government.

"Active citizen participation is a unique and important part of Oregon's history and is critical to our future," Kulongoski wrote.

"All Oregonians deserve assurance that their representatives are making decisions based on the public's best interest, rather than for personal gain."

Dallas City Attorney Lane Shetterly told city councilors earlier this month that, regardless of objections, fines will begin to accrue if they didn't file by the April 15 deadline. Most city and county officials have done so.

Kulongoski urged volunteer leaders to be patient as the Legislature, which passed the laws in 2007, works through issues of concern during the 2009 session. For some, that's not soon enough.

"I enjoyed my years with the commission. I've got nothing but good things to say about our city and its staff. They're good people," Lough said.

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