Cards on the table, please

In one sense, Danny Jordan is like many local residents: He's underwater on his mortgage. But there the similarity ends.

As detailed in a story in Sunday's Mail Tribune, Jackson County Administrator Jordan's mortgage banker is — Jackson County.

The problem with this is not that the loan was made in the first place, as part of Jordan's negotiated compensation package in 2009. The practice is common in the corporate world, although apparently less so in the public sector, and it was a reasonable way for the county commissioners at the time to encourage Jordan to stay here rather than move on. The county is actually making money on the deal.

The problem is that the transaction was so well disguised that it came as a surprise even to a member of the county's Budget Committee.

As county administrator, Jordan is paid a salary of $170,000 — a handsome sum in Southern Oregon, but hardly outrageous, and well below what a comparable position in the private sector would command. On top of that, Jordan receives a housing allowance of $1,000 a month, a monthly car allowance of $649 and other compensation, including a severance package and the aforementioned loan.

Jordan bought a house in 2005 for $545,000, then added a pool and other amenities that increased its value. He negotiated the $654,000 loan in 2009 as part of a new employment contract.

Jordan has done an outstanding job as county administrator, earning rave reviews from county commissioners and the admiration of county officials elsewhere in the state for helping steer the county to a sizable surplus during lean times that leaves it in far better fiscal shape than most other counties in Oregon. Commissioners were concerned in 2009 that he might leave for greener pastures, and he was receiving job offers, Commissioner C.W. Smith said.

The deal turned out to be good for Jordan — he got an interest rate below the private market at the time — and for the county, because the 3.46 percent rate is now more than double what the county can get for its other investments. Unwittingly, the commissioners also made it even less likely Jordan would leave, because he now owes $251,330 more than the house is worth after the real-estate market collapse. He's not going anywhere soon without a heck of a signing bonus.

That leaves us with the transparency issue.

Only one member of the 2009 board of commissioners is still in office, and C.W. Smith is also the only one to comment on the matter for the story. Smith made it clear where he stands on the transparency issue when he defended the cryptic wording of the transaction in the board order approving the loan, saying, "we do try to provide some degree of respectful privacy to employees."

That's mighty nice, but it's not how it works in the public sector. The compensation of government employees is public record.

To be fair, the county did not balk when the Mail Tribune requested all the details of the loan. But in 2009, the agenda item for the board order referred to "an agreement and lender's escrow instructions with employee" without naming Jordan.

Commissioners John Rachor and Don Skundrick, who took office in January, both said they would have handled the matter differently.

Rachor said he would have insisted the loan be announced to the public.

"The sooner it comes out, the better," he said.

That's the right attitude, and one county voters should expect from all the commissioners. Contrast that approach with Smith's words:

"You're just opening yourself up to everybody coming out of the woods," he said. "There's always that segment of the community that isn't happy no matter how you do it."

Absolutely true. But that doesn't mean you should avoid telling the community what it is you're doing.

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