Yachats fire chief under investigation

NEWPORT — After a preliminary review recounting accusations levied against Yachats Rural Fire Protection Chief Frankie Petrick, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission decided in a May 31 meeting to move the case into a full investigation.

The accusations include receiving “kickback” rewards and personally benefiting from a professional real estate transaction, which resulted in an ethics review by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, which found Petrick may have violated two provisions of Oregon Government Ethics law. 

An April 18 preliminary review found there to be a “substantial objective basis” that Petrick may have violated the gift clause and the use of office provision, which are both violations of state government ethics law. Petrick’s lawyer has countered claims the longtime chief used her office for her own benefit.

A complaint from a firefighter with the Yachats Rural Fire Protection District earlier this year initiated the ethics commission’s preliminary review. The firefighter accused Petrick of accepting the gift of a tractor for facilitating the purchase of land along Yachats River Road far above the land’s actual value. 

The land was previously owned by Petrick’s ex-husband, Steve Hamilton, according to the ethics commission’s preliminary review. Hamilton and Petrick are apparently neighbors and own a private ambulance company in Yachats together called South Lincoln Ambulance Company. The ambulance company is a nonprofit corporation, and the fire district pays the ambulance company for ambulance services. 

The allegations Petrick accepted a gift and conducted a professional real estate transaction for personal gain is substantiated by a text message conversation between Hamilton’s wife, Martina Olson, and an unknown person. The text messages were obtained by the complainant and included in the preliminary report.

“They didn’t buy that [the tractor] together,” wrote Olson in the text message included in the report. “I wrote the check. He bought her for her as a thank you for working on the land deal. It’s only here because he likes to make sure it’s taken care of.”

Petrick is also accused of using fire district personnel and equipment for her own personal purposes during work time. The firefighter who made the complaint, according to the ethics commission’s review, said he and another firefighter were told by Petrick to block a road near Petrick’s house so she could move cattle, which they did with fire district vehicles. 

On another occasion, Petrick told him to help her move a couch during company time, and roped fire district personnel and equipment into helping a friend move. The complainant said all of those occasions occurred during work hours. 

However, correspondence from Petrick’s lawyer, Dan Lawler, counter the accusations leveled against his client. Lawler said in a letter to the ethics commission the only tractor in Petrick’s possession is one she shares with multiple neighbors, who all share the cost of maintaining the tractor as well. 

“Thus, Ms. Petrick’s use of the tractor is unrelated to her status as a public official or the purchase of the fire station property,” Lawler wrote. 

Using district vehicles, equipment and personnel to block the road while Petrick moved cattle, Lawler added, is a service available to all members of the public.

“This service is available throughout the district’s jurisdiction and promotes traffic safety,” Lawler said. “In fact, the district frequently responds to calls about cattle in the road and assists with moving the animals. Ms. Petrick did not receive a financial benefit that would be unavailable but for her official position because any member of the public can call the district to obtain the same service.”

The other incidents, like fire district employees ordered to help Petrick’s friend move, were also addressed in Lawler’s written statements. The house Petrick’s son lived in had flooded, and the fire district was dispatched to help mitigate the effects of the flood. As part of their work, firefighters with the district helped move a couch from the son’s house into Petrick’s truck.

Despite the protestations against the complaint, the ethics commission still believes Petrick may have committed wrongdoing. The end of the preliminary review suggests the ethics commission should conduct a full investigation into the case. 

“The Oregon Government Ethics Commission should move to investigate possible violations...by Frankie Petrick,” the preliminary report read. 

Ethics Commission officials believe the investigation will take six months before the commission convenes in a November meeting. While ethics commission officials wouldn’t say much, the case is still in the early stages.

“We don’t know if there’s much to tell yet,” said a source from the Oregon Government Ethics Commission who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We will be looking to see if she violated [state] statutes.”

Patrick plans to cooperate with the commission during the course of the investigation.

“I’m working to provide the OGEC with the relevant information they need,” Petrick said Friday. “I wish to let them do their jobs and have no other statement at this time.”