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In the Final Analysis, Rob Handy and Peter Sorenson Were Both Found Guilty of Willfully Violating Oregon’s Public Meetings Law
-by Scott Rohter, April 2012
“If we don’t restore trust to the political process by which we govern ourselves, people soon won’t even obey a common traffic light anymore.” – Scott Rohter
This article is the last in a series, republished especially for the May 2012 Lane County elections.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in May, 2011. This year Rob Handy and Peter Sorenson are running again for re-election to the Lane County Board of Commissioners from District 4 and District 3 respectively. It is important for the voters of North and South Eugene to remember that they were both found guilty of serious ethical violations of Oregon’s Public Meetings Laws, not by a Republican judge, of which there are not many in Oregon, but by an impartial judge of the State of Oregon. Together Handy and Sorenson cost the residents of Lane County close to $750,000 in attorney’s fees! This wasn’t a political witch hunt as some people claim. It wasn’t the plaintiffs in this case, former Lane County Commissioner Ellie Dumdi, and businessman Ed Anderson who found the defendants guilty. It was an impartial judge of the State of Oregon from Coos Bay who found Rob Handy and Peter Sorenson guilty!
After the court ruling, and an aborted attempt to appeal the guilty verdict by Peter Sorenson, our County Board of Commissioners literally bent over backwards in a special spirit of bi-partisanship to accommodate the two guilty defendants, by agreeing to pay for all but a small portion of their legal bills. And an agreement was reached behind closed doors in which Handy and Sorenson would not have to publically admit to any further wrongdoing. However the Judge had already pronounced his verdict. They were both found guilty, and by the very fact that they signed the agreement, and agreed to pay $30,000 each toward the cost of their legal defense, they tacitly acknowledged their own guilt. Read on:
Mr. Handy writes in his May 1, 2011 editorial in the Eugene Register Guard that the public is still confused about the nature of the lawsuit and the convictions against him and Peter Sorenson. Well, I am not at all confused about the lawsuit, or the outcome of the trial! Rob Handy and Peter Sorenson were found guilty of willfully violating Oregon’s Public Meetings Law, even though they tried very hard not to get caught, by making sure that three members of the Lane County Board of Commissioners were never present at any one time during their secret deliberations. Their intentions were quite clear though, Judge Gillespie said. They were doing more than just communicating, as Mr. Handy writes in his editorial. They were deliberating on matters of public policy in private closed door meetings and they were orchestrating their meetings and deliberations among all five of the Lane County Commissioners so as to arrive at a predetermined vote before the public meeting. They even had a code word for those secret meetings called “book club!” If they didn’t know that they were doing something wrong, why did Commissioner Bill Fleenor poke administrative assistant Rudy Chavarria in the stomach and say to him, “You didn’t see anything!” (P.S. Lane County taxpayers paid dearly for that little indiscretion of Commissioner Fleenor’s. Our County Board of Commissioners settled out of court with Mr. Chavarria for approximately $90,000!)
Mr. Handy should stop trying to plead innocence. The trial is over and he and Peter Sorenson were both found guilty! If he doesn’t like the verdict than he can appeal the decision, but he shouldn't sign the settlement and agree to pay a fine of $20,000 which implies that he is accepting the Court’s decision, and keep denying his guilt! He should just be glad that I wasn’t a County Commissioner, because I wouldn’t have let him off the hook so easy! First of all, his fine would have been at least doubled, and I wouldn’t have given him three years to pay it! Secondly, he would have actually had to admit guilt! I would not have allowed it to be merely inferred from his acceptance of the settlement agreement! And thirdly, I would have insisted that he sign an agreement prohibiting him from ever running for public office again! So he should be very glad that Commissioners Stewart, Leiken, and Bozievich looked more favorably upon his predicament. It could have been much worse!
Before Commissioners Handy and Sorenson tried to pull off this scam, the residents of Lane County didn’t care much whether our County Commissioners met with one another to discuss ideas from time to time, outside of the public meetings, whether it was in person or by phone, or e-mail, but after this eye-opener I think many residents of Lane County are extremely nervous and suspicious of any contact between sitting Commissioners outside of a public meeting, and rightly so! Handy and Sorenson did more than just communicate! They knowingly orchestrated a series of secret chain meetings among all five County Commissioners outside of the public view, with the intention of deliberating on matters of public policy, outside of the designated time and place, and arriving at a predetermined conclusion outside of the watchful eye of the public! Their intentions were not just to communicate, but rather to deliberate and decide, thus rendering our public meetings in effect just a sham! Apparently Rob Handy can’t tell the difference between communicating and deliberating!
In Handy’s recent Register Guard editorial, he states that certain legal scholars in Oregon are dismayed at Judge Gillespie’s ruling. Well, if they are, that is because they have no core values or principles, just like Mr. Handy! That is why Rob Handy and his so-called friendly legal scholars don’t care that the spirit and intent of the Public Meetings Law was clearly violated! They would rather argue that it was not violated very much, or technically not violated at all! They would rather quibble over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or in this case how much they can violate the intent of the law without actually violating the law! In other words, just how many secret, deliberately orchestrated chain meetings scheduled with the intention of arriving at a prearranged vote, actually constitutes a violation of the Public Meetings Law?
“We never actually had three Commissioners present in the same room at any one time,” Handy said. P L E A S E ! What constitutes a room, Mr. Handy? If I put up a partition in the middle of a room that divides the room in half, does that make two rooms? Can’t the people organized around both sides of that wall still work their mischief, just the same? And in today’s highly technical world, people don’t even need to meet in a literal room anymore to violate the intent of Oregon’s Public Meetings Law. Handy and Sorenson thought, and still do think that they were very smart because they avoided a direct confrontation of the Public Meetings Law. They tried to avoid an obvious violation, therefore they feel that they shouldn’t have been caught! Do you know what the difference is between Republicans and Democrats? If these two guys were Republicans who got caught doing this, they would have both pled guilty by now, and resigned in disgrace! And they would have had no support from the Republican Party! But as political commentator Ann Coulter says, “If Democrats didn’t have low standards, they wouldn’t have any standards at all!”
Mr. Handy states in his R/G editorial that he was swept into office in a historical election in 2008, and he rode in on the same “tide of change” that brought Barack Obama into power. True enough, but it’s more like a “riptide of change” that is still working it’s way through our economy and our society, disrupting everything from the price of food and gas, to literally ordering Americans to purchase a health insurance policy under the threat of financial penalty or jail time if they fail to do so! Before this riptide of change, self employed Americans could either choose to buy, or not to buy a health insurance policy, and when to buy it! But not anymore! Now, thanks to 'Obama Care', beginning at age 25, every American will have to purchase a health insurance policy and show proof of health insurance, and it will cost every American born after 1986, approximately $200,000 to $500,000 over the course of their lifetime in order to do so! This is hard earned money that, prior to Barack Obama, Americans might have invested in a Health Savings Account, or in their IRA, or in the stock market, or in real estate, but not anymore! Rob Handy’s so called “tide of change” has turned all of that money over for now, to private insurance companies in the form of mandatory health insurance policies! But I wonder how long it will take for the U.S. Government to get their hands on that huge pile of money? It is obviously too big for them to ignore! $200,000 multiplied by the actual number of Americans in the country under age 25 is a hell of a lot of money!
Rob Handy says that when he ran for Lane County Commissioner, he wanted to be a leader, not just a rubber stamp! Apparently his definition of being a leader includes colluding with others to order himself a personal assistant at the public’s expense, to do the work that he didn’t want to do! Call me crazy, but that doesn’t sound like good leadership to me! Mr. Handy identifies himself as a progressive politician, and part of a local group of progressives in Lane County government and Eugene city government. Finally I have something that I can agree with him on. He definitely is a progressive! Other members of this group include Commissioner Peter Sorenson, who was also convicted of willfully violating Oregon’s Public Meetings Law, and Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, affectionately called “Mayor Pursey,” because she can never seem to get enough of the public’s money! There is also Eugene City Counselor Andrea Ortiz, George Brown, and Allen Zelanka, and last but not least, our own State Senator Floyd Prozanski. Every one of these progressives with the lone possible exception of Floyd Prozanski, who does most of his work on a statewide level, has been actively working to support the West Eugene EmX project, against the will of the majority of the residents of Eugene. Handy says that he wants to save us from the unethical tactics of “big business Republican types.” Excuse me! If that ain’t the pot calling the kettle black! Mr. Handy was just convicted of willfully conspiring to violate the Oregon Public Meetings Law and he has the nerve to question other people’s ethics? Give me a break! Mr. Handy also claims that his enemies are those big business types who want to rid local government of progressives, just so that they can manipulate local land use laws, and transportation and environmental decisions! May I point out, that is exactly what Rob Handy and his progressive allies in Eugene are currently doing with the mother of all local transportation issues, the West Eugene EmX! It isn’t Ellie Dumdi, Ed Anderson, Aaron Jones, Dale Riddle, or the Seneca Jones Sawmill Company, that is trying to force the West Eugene EmX on an unwilling Eugene populace! And just for the record Aaron Jones is in his 80's, and he is in poor health and is unable to personally do anything to coerce Lane County or Eugene to make any rulings whatsoever in his favor, nor does he probably even care! If Mr. Handy or any of his progressive compatriots want to talk about sustainability issues, I would welcome the opportunity! In my book, sustainability for Eugene and Lane County would be trying to manage the population of our community at its approximate current level, not planning to grow the population of Eugene to somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 people! That is exactly what Progressive’s long-term planning goals are for Eugene and Lane County, i.e. massive expansion and urban development, which is why they talk about needing the West Eugene EmX, or light rail! One last point. Mr. Handy complains about how the Register Guard doesn’t support his progressive ideology, and how the newspaper favors big business, in its desire to oust progressives from positions in local government! That’s a lot of horse manure to digest Mr. Handy! Why don’t you go first! The R/G is not known for its conservative reporting or commentary, or for being fair and balanced!
"A journalist has no better friend than the truth." - Scott Rohter