MONMOUTH — Candidates running for Monmouth mayor and city council positions sent a letter of complaint to Interim City Manager Chad Olsen on Friday.
“We believe that Mayor Cec Koontz has advocated for a political position utilizing the city’s resources,” in the mayor’s notes section of the city’s October community notes newsletter, the letter states.
The letter was sent to Olsen from Lisa Scheirman’s email address and was signed by Scheirman, Jason Branske, Jason Ridgeway, Adam Jefferson and Seth Rogers. Schierman is running for mayor against Koontz.
They cited Oregon Revised Statute 260.432, which addresses restrictions on political campaigning for public employees.
The ORS states that elected officials may not, “have an opinion piece or letter advocating a political position published in a jurisdiction’s newsletter or other publication produced or distributed by public employees.”
The writers of the complaint said while Koontz “does not endorse a particular platform, it clearly speaks to the perceived value of experience in elected office and goes so far as to indicate that those who have not served on boards or in other elected positions might not be able to hit the ground running and perform effectively.”
It discounts people who have run their own businesses or their own personal budgets, the complaint states.
Koontz mentioned the city’s boards and commissions and wrote that, “Often, people who run for elected office have served on one or more of these Boards. Is it required? Certainly not. Is it helpful? Absolutely. So, how much does experience matter? With any new job there is a learning curve. No one steps into office with a completely clean slate to enact their own agenda.”
In the newsletter, Koontz said elected officials inherit the budget, which runs through June 30.
“Reading that budget and understanding its priorities and mechanics is vital,” she said.
So is reading council packets and attending city council meetings, she said.
“Ask your candidates if they have been doing that homework – you want them to be ready on day one,” Koontz said. “Believe me, the mayor’s term of two years goes by really fast and it helps to be up to speed on the city’s business.”
The candidates, in their letter point out that everyone in a “government leadership position was ‘new to the job’ at least once.”
“It also insinuates that all candidates may not be performing their due diligence preparing for the position they seek, with negative messaging like ‘ask your candidates if they have been doing that homework,’” the letter states. “Additionally, the insinuation that it is anything but valuable having a large number of participants file for these positions is at best insulting, but at worst furthers the statutory violation.”
They end by asking the city to “allow a platform for these candidates to express their alternative perspective(s) with regard to the upcoming election,” and for an apology or “admission of wrong-doing.”
Koontz said she would let city staff respond to the complaint, but did comment “on the perception that I took a political stance in my Mayor’s Notes.”
“I am very happy that people are stepping up in our community,” Koontz said. “We make better decisions when we have residents with different backgrounds, and yes, different levels of experience, engaging on issues. I’m sorry that people felt personally targeted, because that wasn’t my intent at all.
I appreciate everyone taking opportunities to learn as much as possible about the work ahead, and the role of elected officials in that work.”
Olsen responded Monday morning in an email to Scheirman. He thanked them for reaching out and directed them to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.
“This is not something for me or the city to investigate and adjudicate,” Olsen said. “Complaints regarding alleged violations of ORS 260.432 are within the jurisdiction of the Oregon Secretary of State, Elections Division.
“After review of the Mayor’s article and your specific comments, it is not clear to me that there is a violation here. However, if you believe it was a violation for the city to publish the mayor’s message, then you should file a complaint with the Secretary of State’s Office, Elections Division, 255 Capitol St. NE, Suite 205, Salem, OR 97301, firstname.lastname@example.org. Be assured, the city would cooperate in any investigation.”
Additionally, he said the city could not provide a “platform” for Scheirman and the other candidates. He added that the Monmouth-Independence Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate’s forum last Wednesday and the Itemizer-Observer offered opportunities for interviews and letters to the editor.
“The city’s stance is, and must remain, neutral during elections and if a mistake was made in this instance then it would only be further compounded by the city providing a platform for other candidates,” Olsen said.