Ethics law cited as 4 exit Butte Falls panel

BUTTE FALLS — Calling it an invasion of family privacy, four of the town's six City Council members have resigned because of a revised state ethics law that expanded financial information public officials are required to disclose.

Jana Goodman, Ned Soso, Diane Holm and Shawn Stephens join scores of public officials who have resigned since the new requirements went into effect this year. There have been 190 resignations statewide, said Ron Bersin, executive director of the Oregon Ethics Commission.

Under the original law in 1974, communities could opt out of annual financial disclosure requirements by a vote of the people. Last year, the Legislature ended that provision and increased reporting requirements to include the listing of all relatives over 18 years of age, whether they live with the official or not.

Butte Falls opted out of the Ethics Commission requirement on a vote of 92-76 in 1976.

"Now, after 30 years, the Legislature says that vote doesn't count. They're basically just taking a vote away from the people," said Mayor Ron Ormond.

Ormond said he believes the Oregon Constitution gives precedence to such a vote.

"The city of Butte Falls has requested the attorney general give an opinion on this," he said, "and what he gives up will determine whether I will stay or not, whether I keep the fight on and challenge the state in court."

He said most public officials realize they have to give up some rights when they volunteer and "willingly agree to do so."

"Now they want us to give up a list of all our relatives who no longer live with us," he said. "The final thing is they want to put it all on the Internet."

Goodman, who has been a city councilwoman for three years, said she is heartbroken over her decision.

"I can't say it was a job I always loved," she said, "because it's difficult to take criticism when you do something people don't like. But I really felt it was a place where I was making a difference."

Goodman said before the new law, council members did fill out disclosure sheets but they were kept in the city, not on the Internet.

"Everybody in the nation is fighting identify theft and information fraud," she said. "Now they want to post who my parents are, who my brothers and sisters are and even who their spouses are. To me, it's just creating a plethora of information for the lobbyists."

"What are they trying to do? Stop all volunteers?" asked Holm, a 10-year veteran on the council. "Do they know how difficult it is in a small town to get someone to run for office?

"Once I decided not to subject my children to being on the Internet for just a database, I knew it was time to quit."

Ned Soso agreed.

"I'm still involved with the city," he said, "but for the first time in a year and a half, not as a councilman, anymore. I just can't give up my relatives' names and their right to privacy."

The Butte Falls City Council is still able to function with only two members because the city charter says if positions are vacant, a quorum is based upon the remaining members.

John Cozad and Roger Hayden, both appointed earlier this month, will be up for election in November.

"I'm losing some really good people here and I don't like it," Ormond said. "If a legislative body can overturn a vote of the people on a non-criminal matter, that opens the door to everything. I have a big issue with that."

Locally, Rogue River lost a council member and planning commission member in March because of the new requirements.

Ormond said the Butte Falls council members filed their paperwork with the state last week and included their resignation letters.

Bersin said the governor and Legislature are going to hold hearings in June to review the ethics legislation.

"By resigning your position, leaving your leadership position, you really don't help your community," he said. "That's not the answer. The answer is to talk to the interim legislative committee about your concerns and we'll see what kind of changes we can come up with next year."

The League of Oregon Cities last month urged the Ethics Commission to "use discretion "¦ in light of the executive and legislative branches' efforts to address the unintended and severe consequences of some of the new provisions."

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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