Budget Committee member files ethics complaint

TALENT — Oregon's Government Ethics Commission is awaiting more information before it decides whether to conduct a preliminary review of alleged ethics violations by a city Budget Committee member.

Committee member Jason Stricker filed a complaint in May against member Sarah Woodman, daughter of Denise Woodman, the city's finance director. He says Woodman's presence on the committee is not ethical and that it constitutes a conflict of interest.

"At this point Ms. Woodman isn't facing anything because it hasn't even been opened for preliminary review yet," said commission Director Ron Bersin. "We're just waiting for additional information. At this point it is in Mr. Stricker's hands."

Stricker also thinks Woodman should have declared a conflict of interest or abstained from voting when decisions were made on issues that affected her mother's compensation and benefits.

"The reason I'm filing the complaint is that its unethical," said Stricker. "It just doesn't make sense to me. It's not a personal thing against Sarah."

Denise Woodman prepares the proposed budget in collaboration with the city manager and department heads for consideration by the committee and the City Council. After five meetings in April and May, the committee recommended a budget for the coming fiscal year on May 12. The council approved the budget on June 15.

Sarah Woodman said Bersin told her there were no grounds for the complaint.

"He told me there is no basis for the claim," said Woodman of a conversation she had with Bersin after she received a letter from the commission. She declined to comment further on the allegations.

"I don't recall a conversation with her, but I have conversations with a lot of folks," said Bersin.

Woodman was appointed to the committee in 2010 by the previous council. Stricker said that group should have taken a closer look at the appointment.

"To me, if I was on the council or the mayor or city administrator, I would say, 'Wait a minute, we are opening ourselves up to some possibilities here,' " said Stricker. "My perspective here is there's almost an automatic vote for whatever; it's not an unbiased opinion."

Stricker previously served on the city's Architectural Review Committee, including time as chairman. This is his first year on the committee. He is the husband of Darby Stricker, a former city councilwoman and current member of the Planning Commission.

"I threw my hat back into the ring for the Budget Committee to basically get involved as a citizen and to put my two cents worth in," said Stricker.

Other than reporting that this is Woodman's second year on the committee and second time voting on the budget, Stricker said he had little more information to provide.

Based on the information available, the Ethics Commission will decide whether to begin a preliminary review, Bersin said. A complete investigation could lead to a determination of violations of Oregon ethics laws or a finding of nonviolation.

Sanctions for violations range from letters of reprimand up to fines of $5,000, although the latter are rare, Bersin said.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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