By JAYSON JACOBY
Baker County Commission Chairman Bill Harvey has agreed to pay a $1,000 civil penalty to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission for hiring his son to do work for the county in 2020 and for receiving reimbursements from the county for meals and fuel that exceed what’s allowed by county policy.
Harvey signed a stipulated final order with the Ethics Commission in August.
The Ethics Commission is scheduled to approve the settlement during its meeting Wednesday, Sept. 8.
By signing the final order, Harvey waived his right to seek a judicial review of the Commission’s preliminary finding, which it made on June 11 of this year, that Harvey violated state ethics laws.
“Once approved, this agreement shall be the final disposition of the matter and shall be binding upon all parties,” the stipulated final order reads.
The order states that the total fine is $1,250, but the state will reduce the penalty to $1,000 if Harvey “requests and completes online ethics training from the Commission’s training staff prior to September 8, 2021.”
Harvey said in a phone conversation on Monday, Sept. 6 that he did complete the online training to reduce his fine to $1,000.
He said he wanted to defend himself in a formal hearing.
“They assume everything their investigator says is true,” Harvey said. “You pay a fine and it doesn’t matter whether you’re guilty or not. They run the show.”
The Ethics Commission contends, as part of the final order, that had the matter gone to a contested case hearing, with exhibits and testimony, the Commission “would establish a preponderance of evidence in support of a post-hearing order to find three violations of Oregon Revised Statute 244.120 (2)(b) and five violations of ORS 244.040 (1).”
ORS 244.120 requires public officials to disclose conflicts of interest and to recuse themselves from decisions related to the conflict.
ORS 244.040 prohibits public officials from using their position for financial gain for themselves or for relatives.
Case dates to 2020
The case started when Greg Baxter, Baker County district attorney, filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission on Sept. 16, 2020. The Ethics Commission voted 6-0 on Nov. 6, 2020, to assign an investigator to look into the allegations in Baxter’s letter.
Susan Myers, an investigator for the Ethics Commission, recommended the Commission make a preliminary finding that Harvey committed eight violations of ethics laws. Myers wrote in her report that she found a “preponderance of evidence” that Harvey, who was elected in 2014 and re-elected to a second four-year term in 2018, used his position to benefit himself, his son and his son’s business, and that the elder Harvey failed to disclose conflicts of interest as required by state law.
Myers investigated three issues:
• Harvey’s hiring of his son, contractor William Shawn Harvey, to help haul docks to the county-owned Hewitt Park near Richland, for which his son was paid $1,710.
• Harvey’s proposal, which he later withdrew, to hire his son to help with remodeling of the county’s new health department building on Fourth Street.
• Harvey’s reimbursements from the county for mileage and meal expenses while he was working at the Hewitt and Holcomb parks during the spring of 2020.
In a written response to the Commission, dated May 27, 2021, Harvey wrote that “the thought that I used my County Commission position to benefit myself is absurd. Who would ever want to work seven days a week, for two months away from my family, and ignore what was required of me at home as a father, grandfather and husband? As a salaried elected official, all of the extra hours and workload was done at no additional pay for myself.”
Harvey asked that the Ethics Commission give him a warning on one conflict of interest allegation — hiring his son to haul docks to Hewitt Park.
Bill Harvey also proposed that the Commission warn him for discussing the possibility of hiring his son to do demolition work at the building the county bought in August 2020 and that now houses the Baker County Health Department.
Bill Harvey requested that the Ethics Commission dismiss all allegations that he received more money for mileage and meals during the spring and summer of 2020 than is authorized under the county’s travel policy.
But during its June 11 meeting, the Ethics Commission reached a preliminary finding that Harvey committed the ethics violations that Myers listed in her report.
According to the stipulated final order, Harvey violated a state law by failing to disclose his conflict of interest in the decision to award the dock-hauling job to his son, and by signing the $1,710 invoice for the work.
Harvey also violated that law by participating in a discussion about potentially hiring his son to help with demolition work at the health department building, even though his son was never hired to help with that project.
In the matter of meal and mileage reimbursements, according to the stipulated final order, Harvey received about $1,070 more than he was entitled to under county policies — $535 for meals and $535 for mileage.
According to the order, Harvey received payments for meals on 22 days between April 6, 2020, and Aug. 6, 2020, while he was working at Hewitt and Holcomb parks near Richland. Those meals were not eligible for reimbursement under county policies because they did not happen during overnight business travel, were not part of a conference or county business meeting, and were not pre-approved.
Harvey also received payments for mileage on 32 days between March 23, 2020, and Aug. 26, 2020, according to the final order.
Those payments were at the county’s higher rate — 54.5 cents per mile rather than 35 cents — but the higher rate is only for situations when a county vehicle isn’t available, and according to the final order, county vehicles were available on each of those days.
Harvey contended during the June 11 meeting that none of those county vehicles was a pickup truck suitable for hauling the equipment he needed to the parks, which is why he used his personal truck and submitted mileage forms at the higher rate.