Ethics commission clears irrigation district ditch rider

EAGLE POINT — A state ethics commission investigation into the personal use of a public vehicle by an Eagle Point Irrigation District ditch rider was dismissed on Friday due to lack of evidence.

Directed against the district and employee Mark Hueners, the complaint was filed in January by Eagle Point resident and Southern Oregon Militia member Carl Worden.

Worden contended that Hueners, on two occasions, made personal use of a district vehicle: the first, having dinner with his wife at Two Pines Restaurant in Shady Cove, outside district boundaries; and another, when his brother accompanied Huener during a work shift.

Worden cited district policy and cost to district customers as factors in his decision to file a complaint with the state.

Ronald Bersin, executive director of the Oregon Ethics Commission said Friday the commission determined Hueners had not violated any state law on either occasion, having had permission from district management and because he did not benefit financially in either instance.

"Mr. Hueners was on a dinner break and there was no evidence his wife had ridden in the vehicle. They met at the restaurant and had dinner," Bersin said.

"I compare that to when I send one of my employees to another town and they have a state vehicle and go to dinner instead of ordering in. He went to dinner with his wife but there was no evidence she rode with him."

Worden, a frequent critic of local government, said he was "absolutely disgusted" with the ethics commission's ruling on Friday.

"Mr. Hueners used an Eagle Point Irrigation truck to drive to a private dinner with his wife at a restaurant on May 4, 2007, at 7:20 p.m.," he said in an e-mail to a Mail Tribune reporter.

"The restaurant is located outside the boundaries of the Eagle Point Irrigation District. At that time of year there is little demand for irrigation water and 7:20 p.m. is long after normal work hours "¦ (Irrigation District Manager) Hazel Ellefson now claims Mr. Hueners was working before the dinner, and for many hours after the dinner, apparently in the black of night."

Ellefson said district officials were relieved at the dismissal of the case.

"The patrons of the district know the kind of hours our ditch riders work and they really backed the ditch rider and the district as a whole on this, and were very upset there was even a question about it," she said Friday, adding that the state investigator for the case requested time cards and district policy information during the investigation and "felt satisfied" that no violation of state law had occurred.

Worden voiced frustration that Gold Hill Public Works Director Royal Gasso was found guilty for use of a public vehicle in recent months, despite city policy allowing such use, while Hueners was not.

Gasso was found in violation of state law on various occasions and was ordered to pay a fine, which the city paid on behalf of Gasso.

"I find this to be an entirely contradictory ruling," Worden said. "What they did is they had a procedure here that shortcuts and basically eliminates a complaint based solely on the recommendation of the investigator.

"We really shouldn't even have an ethics commission because this dismissal is going to cause a lot of people to say, 'Hey, I'm on call,' and decide they can use their public vehicle for anything they want. As far as I'm concerned they should disband the ethics commission because it is a complete joke. The ethics commission needs to be more consistent as far as their findings."

Asked to compare the case of Hueners and the district to that of Gold Hill's recent case, Bersin said the commission "looks at each individual case and the facts involved in each case individually."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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