Animosity between a local railroad operator and members of Clark County Council intensified last week with ethics complaints against councilors. Those who are accused say it is a political ploy ahead of the August primary election.
Earlier this month, Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad (PVJR) Operator Eric Temple filed an ethics complaint with the county alleging that an associate of Councilor John Blom had threatened him regarding potential campaign contributions toward one of Blom’s opponents in the coming election. Blom, who is running with no party preference, has a Republican challenger in Karen Bowerman, and Temple had contributed $20,000 to the Clark County Republican Party “with an emphasis on the Clark County Councilor races,” according to a release from PVJR.
Temple’s complaint alleges that Blom’s associate’s message “was in essence, if any of my money helped his opponent in the primary, he would destroy me along with the 16 years and millions of dollars I've invested in your community.”
PVJR had previously been working with the county in order to implement relatively new state law allowing for the establishment of industrial development along short-line railroads, like the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad in Clark County that the county owns and PVJR operates. Work on implementation stalled out in late 2018, and last year PVJR and the county filed litigation against each other over contract disputes that has yet to be resolved.
During a July 15 “council time” meeting Blom refuted Temple’s claims, noting the current litigation the county and PVJR were in.
“These accusations are 100-percent false,” Blom said, calling the complaint, “largely just a political ploy to try to influence the upcoming election.”
Blom said that Temple’s actions were “par for the course” for him, noting he has been critical of county staff in the past, notably former county manager Shawn Henessee.
During the meeting council considered whether or not to form an ad hoc committee to review the complaint. Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Chief Civil Deputy Emily Sheldrick said the complaint “appears to concern action that is not related to conduct of the business of the county council per the rules of procedure,” though she noted the ultimate decision was up to council.
Councilor Julie Olson said her understanding of the code of conduct pertained specifically to doing council business. Olson moved to deny addressing the complaint with an ad-hoc committee, with Councilor Temple Lentz seconding.
Council Chair Eileen Quiring questioned whether or not Lentz should second the vote, given that prior to the meeting Temple had called for Lentz to recuse herself due to past involvement with a prior campaign of Blom’s, when he ran for his current seat in 2016. High Five Media, of which Lentz is a partner, received more than $14,000 from Blom’s 2016 campaign for campaign services.
Olson replied with a question as to whether or not Quiring should recuse herself from the vote given her position as vice-chair for the CCRP, which received money from PVJR and has a challenger against Blom.
Lentz said Temple’s accusations against her were “baseless,” as was his complaint against Blom.
“Not only is he referencing a company that worked for councilor Blom before he was councilor four years ago, my company is not working for him now,” Lentz said. “This accusation, like his accusation against councilor Blom, is about political campaigns, not county business.”
Sheldrick said after looking at state law and the home rule charter and based on the “limited” information in the complaint Sheldrick had received, she said she did not see a direct conflict of interest for Lentz to make a vote on Blom’s complaint.
Councilor Gary Medvigy said the fact that three of the five councilors had some potential reason for recusal showed the flaws in the county’s current system for addressing complaints.
“I really think we should just admit that this is a defective process from the very beginning,” Medvigy remarked. Both he and Quiring suggested revising the county’s process before taking any action, of which none ultimately happened.
The vote to outright deny forming the committee failed with a tied 2-2 vote, with Lentz and Olson voting for and Medvigy and Quiring voting against. Blom abstained.
Following the meeting, Temple made a formal ethics complaint against Lentz, arguing she did not review any evidence and alleging Blom had “arranged the votes to block an inquiry” before his claim he had nothing to hide.
“An innocent person would welcome an investigation, and not make such an unethical agreement,” Temple wrote in the complaint.
Temple’s complaint against Lentz refutes the councilor’s claims that her company has no involvement with Blom, pointing to one of the three partners of High Five Media — Jim Mains — who is listed as Blom’s campaign manager in Blom’s filing to the Public Disclosure Commission for his candidacy this year.
Information from the PDC does not show any expenditures from Blom’s campaign to High Five Media, though it does show $325 for professional services to Main Distinction, a separate company of Mains’.