By editorial board • 

Conduct that raises eyebrows has no place in public office

Last Friday’s News-Register contained stories about two locally elected officials confronted with conflicts of interest.

One behaved impeccably, avoiding not only the exercise of undue influence, but also the appearance. The other, not so much.

There’s a lesson here, as the mere appearance of official impropriety is wreaking irreparable harm on our treasured democracy. Confidence in elected leaders is at a low ebb, because of often well-founded suspicions they are taking unfair advantage.

In the first case, seven residents of rural, one-lane Smith Road, on Parrett Mountain, petitioned the county for permission to gate it. They said outsiders were using it as a casual shortcut, creating hazardous situations, and they were prepared to foot the bill.

There are about a half-dozen houses on the narrow rural byway, and Commissioner Mary Starrett occupies one with her husband, Ron. She’s not a petitioner, but he is.

There’s no evidence Starrett has expressed a view on the road-gating, though. And when it came under initial discussion Thursday, she not only recused herself, she left the hearing room.

Four residents made their case, but Starrett’s husband was not among them. It was his legal right, but he took a pass.

If he did so for appearances’ sake, we applaud him. We consider his the correct call.

In the second case, a resident of Southwest McMinnville’s Edmunston Street sought city permission to appropriate right of way stretching along one side of his lot, reasoning it would never be put to public use.

He sought first to secure support from two-thirds of affected neighbors, but they united in opposition. He next entered into city-sanctioned mediation with them, to no avail. Finally, he petitioned the city council to grant him the strip regardless of his neighbors’ objections, losing on a 3-2 vote.

Unlike Starrett, City Councilor Kevin Jeffries plunged into the fray at the outset, even though he is married to the applicant’s niece. He accompanied the applicant to his initial meeting with neighbors, introducing himself as an elected councilor. According to one disgruntled neighbor, Jeffries tried to strong-arm them into acquiescing, warning approval would be a slam dunk if it went to the council.

At Tuesday’s session, the applicant used the public comment portion to state his case, even though it was listed on the agenda as a formal discussion item. Jeffries not only remained in his council seat, but went so far as to assist the applicant in pressing his cause. When it came time for formal deliberations, he moved into the audience, giving him a potentially intimidating first-hand view of the action.

Not so many months ago, Jeffries led the charge in the ouster of Martha Meeker as city manager, then applied for the job himself. That seemed so tone deaf, it earned him rebukes from both this newspaper and one of his colleagues.

The problem is, appearances matter, underlying intentions notwithstanding. The guiding rule should be, neither private gain from public office nor the appearance thereof.

Comments

Lulu

Kevin Jeffries obviously doesn't know how and when to butt out. Appearances obviously mean nothing to him. He lacks perspective and judgment. He lives in his own tiny world in which consequences don't exist.

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