Ethics violation case dismissed

Lincoln City Council not charged

LINCOLN CITY — On Friday, it was announced that the Oregon Government Ethics Commission had dismissed the ethics violation complaint that Justin Werner of made against the council and mayor of Lincoln City in 2018, despite investigator Diane Gould’s recommendation that they find them in violation of public meeting law.

It was explained in the Jan. 25 meeting that there is no hard and fast rule in this situation and it is taken case-by-case basis — repeatedly statement by multiple people in the meeting that the commission was in a difficult position with this case.

One such factor that makes this case “messy,” as one commissioner described it, is that under Oregon legislation passed in 2015, the ethics commission “may not adopt rules that establish what entities are considered representatives of the news media” — nor is the term “news media” defined in public meeting law.

And, while Lincoln City has a media policy outlined on their site — which is legal — it is the opinion of the attorney general that enforcement of a policy or the requirement of advance notice results in the exclusion of a news media representative from a meeting, then the exclusion is a violation of public meeting law.

In addition, it was noted in the report that the council and city staff have previously corresponded with Justin Werner as a representative of Lincoln City Homepage. Werner and his staff have covered the city council with increasing frequency since 2015.

As part of the Gould’s conclusion that this exclusion was a violation of the law, she pointed out that “the requirement that a representative of the news media submit ‘substantial evidence’ to the City Council ‘30 days in advance of the first executive session that the entity desires to attend’ is impractical, as one does not know until an agenda is published, usually a few days prior to the meeting, when an executive session is planned and for what purpose.”

Due to the lack of statutory definitions for “news media” and the complicated nature of the case, it was moved that the commission dismiss the complaints altogether, rather than finding the councilors and mayor in violation or not in violation of public meeting law. The motion passed, 7-2.

However, in discussion, Commissioner Kamala Shugar expressed a hope that Lincoln City would make plans for a more transparent process in considering potential representatives of the news media.

“The tip of the spear for freedom of the press took a glancing blow with this outcome," Werner told the News-Times on Monday.

He also added that, “satisfying the community with coverage of local news is our primary goal and this decision doesn't do anything to stop us — in fact, it helps.”

Neither sitting mayor Dick Anderson nor the council president, Judy Casper, immediately returned comment on the outcome of the complaints.