On August 25th, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission voted 6-0 on what to do with the alleged conflict of interest with Ashland Mayor Tonya Graham, who also agreed with the commission.
If you aren’t aware, back in February, the Ashland City Council unanimously elected council Graham as mayor in February after Julie Atkins resigned in late January. The problem arose with the fact that Graham had also voted, and she voted for herself.
There is nothing wrong with voting oneself if they believe they are truly fit for the job, as long as you fully acknowledge any potential conflicts of interest, such as a pay raise, which is what happened with Mayor Graham. Graham voted for herself without stating her potential conflict of interest, which was the fact that becoming mayor would have upped her salary from the councilor’s sum of $350 a year to $500 a year. That’s a $150 increase, and nothing to turn your nose up at. While the six commissioners didn’t say anything about it at the time, according to the audio of the meeting, one commissioner exclaimed “$500” and then whistled. Her actions, as pointed out by the Ethics Commission, violated Oregon Revised Statute 244.120, which states that “if any public official’s vote is necessary to meet a requirement of a minimum number of votes to take official action, be eligible to vote, but not to participate as a public official in any discussion or debate on the issue out of which the actual conflict arises.”
Graham had attempted to correct the error on February 21 of this year during a council meeting by informing them that she had failed to disclose the conflict of interest, and then proceeded to ask another councilor to reconsider her appointment as mayor. She said that it was an honest mistake, and that because everything had been so chaotic following the resignations of former Mayor Julie Atkins and former Councilor Sean Moran, she had simply not been thinking of the potential conflict of interest. Otherwise, she would have refrained from voting altogether.
In the end, in lieu of a fine, the Ethics Commission voted to give her a “letter of education”. Mayor Graham accepted this and signed the agreed settlement, thus waiving her rights to possible judicial review.
It should be noted that since Graham became mayor, Ashland voters approved measure 15-215, a measure that increases the pay for both the mayor and the councilors to $900 each month.