Monday, September 11, 2006

GOP Oregon House Majority Leader: ethics challenged

Republican House Majority Leader Wayne Scott seems to have problem with ethics. He's definitely swimming on the shallow end of the ethics pool. At least when it comes to declaring a potential conflict of interest on legislation.

Oregon has a very specific slate of laws requiring legislators to declare a conflict of interest when they or members of their family might benefit financially from proposed legislation. The law even breaks down what it means to be a relative (or family member). Included are the spouse, parents, children, brothers and sisters of either the public official or the official's spouse.

Legislators are given a handbook by the Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission to interpret the legal speak for public officials.

The law also breaks down "conflict of interest" into actual and potential (bolded parts reflect the handbook statements):

A potential conflict of interest arises when a public official takes official action that could financially impact the public official, the official’s relatives, or a business with which the public official or a relative is associated.

An actual conflict of interest arises when a public official takes official action that would financially impact the official, a relative or an associated business.

Potential conflict of interest and the various other relevant definitions are also described under Oregon Statute. ORS 244.020 to be specific:

(14) “Potential conflict of interest” means any action or any decision or recommendation by a person acting in a capacity as a public official, the effect of which could be to the private pecuniary benefit or detriment of the person or the person’s relative, or a business with which the person or the person’s relative is associated, unless the pecuniary benefit or detriment arises out of the following:

(a) An interest or membership in a particular business, industry, occupation or other class required by law as a prerequisite to the holding by the person of the office or position.

(b) Any action in the person’s official capacity which would affect to the same degree a class consisting of all inhabitants of the state, or a smaller class consisting of an industry, occupation or other group including one of which or in which the person, or the person’s relative or business with which the person or the person’s relative is associated, is a member or is engaged. The commission may by rule limit the minimum size of or otherwise establish criteria for or identify the smaller classes that qualify under this exception.

(c) Membership in or membership on the board of directors of a nonprofit corporation that is tax-exempt under section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code.

In other words, if it positively or negatively effects any business or personal position or financial interest of the public official or that official's family, a conflict of interest must be declared. That is the law.

The Oregon House also has House Rules on this matter. Known as Announcement of Conflict of Interest (3.21), the rule requires that legislators file a conflict of interest statement prior to a vote, if it applies. Unfortunately I can't find a link to this rule, if any one knows of an online resource for the Oregon House Rules, please provide it in comments.

As I understand it, the law and these rules require that a legislator declare the conflict in writing prior to the vote.

Republican Majority Leader Wayne Scott is a well-propertied man. He has a list of real estate holdings under the names of himself and his family members.

A search of the Secretary of State's Corporate Division "Business Registry Associated Business Search" yields under Wayne Scott and A. Wayne Scott the following companies: Albany Comfort Suites, Comfort Suites Clackamas, Comfort Suites Salem, Buck of Oregon Inc, Direct Discount Fireworks, GRW LLC, Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites, Albany Ivy Street
Mini Storage Inc, LES Inc, WB Ventures LLC, and Willow Creek Estates.

All the companies have the same Aurora or Canby addresses. The majority of Scott's holdings list the Canby address as their main contact.

The Oregon Construction Contractors Board lists license #100654 for LES, Inc. The corporate officers are listed as Thomas AW Scott (Wayne Scott's son),Wayne Scott and Marlene Scott (Wayne's wife). They are licensed as a General Contract/All. The LES, Inc's Standard Industrial Classification number lists trades and crafts that they are licensed to perform: Single Family Houses, Residential, Other than Single Family; and Operative Builders.

What does all of that mean? Basically, Wayne Scott is a mini-real estate mogul. He owns properties with his family. In addition, he and his family members are licensed to do basic general contracting and building.

All this said, Wayne Scott has failed to file a conflict of interest with the House on votes where it appears he legally should have.

And its not as if there hasn't been good reason.

HB 2197--changes the definition of "transient lodging tax." The bill added
houses, cabins, condos, apartment units, tent spaces, and other dwelling
units that are used for temporary occupapancy to the list of accomodations
that are subject to the transient lodging tax. As noted above, Wayne Scott owns several Comfort Suites and a Holiday Inn Express. At minimun, Scott is required Scott a potential conflict of interest. Interestingly, in 2003 he
filed a potential conflict of interest on HB 2267, which created the original transient lodging tax that HB 2197 was seeking to expand. Clearly Scott is aware of the law and the rules.

HB 2549: Allows the construction of a single family dwelling on a lot or
parcel where land use restrictions or reinterpretation prevents
construction of a dwelling that could have been constructed when the owner
acquired the lot or parcel. This is a Measure 37 companion piece. This bill was huge for the Home Builders Association. Scott's involvement in LES, Inc.
and other construction interests should have generated a notice of potential
conflict of interest.

SB 1037, another companion bill to Measure 37. It established the claim process and review to implement 37. Scott voted yes on August 2, 2005 without noting his potential conflict of interest. But not just because of his homebuilding businesses. Scott filed a Measure 37 claim against Clackamas County for $350,000 (ZC073-06 is the claim #).

SB 574 (filed at the request of the Oregon Home Builders Association) allows commercial or residential building contractors to provide information at the time that deed records are presented to a county clerk regarding the structure. Things like information on the original contractor, subcontractors, material suppliers etc. Obvious potential conflict.

HB 2078: Creates Task Force on Construction Claims. The task force is to report to the Legislature "regarding Oregon construction claims, including but not limited to recommendations concerning construction defects, consumer
protection and statemandated requirements for contractors." This committee essentially calls the shots on who gets to do construction and who doesn't. Conflict of interest for Scott? You bet.