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Slapped Down by the Judge, But Not Knocked Down / Handy or Maybe “Not So Handy”.
By Scott Rohter, January 2012, Republished March 2012

“The worst Government that money can buy.”  - Anonymous

This article is the first in a series, republished especially for the May 2012 election campaign.


Editor’s note: (This article was first published in January, 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 Law, not by a Republican judge, (of which there are not many in our state), 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 Democrats claim. The plaintiffs in the case, former Lane County Commissioner Ellie Dumdi, and businessman Ed Anderson did not find the defendants, Handy and Sorenson guilty. An impartial judge of the State of Oregon, from Coos Bay found them guilty.

After the court ruling, and an aborted attempt to appeal the guilty verdict by Sorenson, our Board of Commissioners literally bent over backwards in a 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 did not have to publically admit to any further wrongdoing. However the Judge had already pronounced his verdict. They were both guilty, and by the very fact that they signed the agreement, and agreed to pay $30,000 each toward the cost of their legal bills, they tacitly acknowledged their own guilt. Read on:

I guess that Rob Handy and Peter Sorenson can meet privately now as often as they want, to discuss the public’s business or even to commiserate over their own personal misfortunes, now that they are not part of a majority consensus, on the Lane County Board of Commissioners anymore.  And I am sure that they will too!  But now that they are just two voices out of five, they can’t cause that much damage!  The whole point of Oregon’s Public Meetings Law ORS 192.630 is to insure that the public’s business is being conducted in an open and transparent manner and not being formulated or decided in private, “closed door meetings,” by a select few, without the public’s involvement, the way that Handy and Sorenson like to do!

I remember seeing Peter Sorenson walking around town in the rain on a weekend not far from the County Administration Building.  He had a cell phone in his hand and he was talking on the phone to someone.  Now I wonder if that someone was Rob Handy.  I might actually have been an eye witness to their crime.  Are Peter Sorenson’s initials PS or BS?  I guess Pete and Rob (that’s funny, it rhymes with cheat and rob) can now safely plot and scheme all they want together because it’s just the two of them now on their side of the “Great Political Divide” and they don’t constitute a quorum any more on the Lane County Board of Commissioners.  Why did the Register Guard front page photo on January 19, 2011 feature Rob Handy in the foreground and Peter Sorenson’s fuzzy little image in the background?  That’s interesting isn’t it?  Are they trying to divert attention away from Peter in order to salvage “a valuable political player and his career”?

Let’s face it, Peter Sorenson is the real brains here!  With almost 20 years in public office starting out in 1993 as an Oregon State Senator, and winning election to that position the very next year, then in 1997 getting elected to the Lane County Board of Commissioners, then 9 years later in 2006 running unsuccessfully for his party’s nomination for Governor and then back again to his work on the Lane County Board of Commissioners, Peter Sorenson is the Democrat’s valuable “political operative” here.  I wonder whether the Democratic Party will come to his rescue or not.  We will have to stay tuned to find out! 

Peter Sorenson, environmental green activist, attorney, State Legislator, County Commissioner, and candidate for Governor definitely knows the ropes in Oregon and has all of the connections too!  Well at least he thought he had, until he got caught along with Rob Handy “recycling” elected public officials back in and out of a series of private, deliberative meetings in order to technically avoid constituting a quorum and violating the Oregon Public Meetings Law.  There were never actually three County Commissioners present at the same time and deliberating in the same room to “technically” violate Oregon’s Public Meetings Law.  See Register Guard article on 1/20/11 “Ruling Sheds New Light on Public Meetings” by Matt Cooper.  There was however a deliberately planned series of ongoing, private meetings among a majority of  the board members of the County Commission over a protracted period of time orchestrated by Peter Sorenson with Rob Handy’s help, all for the purpose of making a behind the scenes public policy decision before the board ever convened to officially debate the pros and cons of the matter. Devious? To say the least! Or is that what Democrats call ingenious?

These “chain meetings” were not held simply to gather information, but to deliberate on matters of policy.  That, Judge Michael Gillespie said, was a no-no!  There was a series of private meetings held by two members of the board at a time in order to deliberate on matters of public policy outside of the normal public venue!   It’s not the same as having three members of the “Board” meet secretly without the other two members present, but it’s just as bad, because decisions are still being made behind closed doors without the public being present.  That was what Judge Michael Gillespie found so wrong with this whole disgusting charade!  These serial meetings violated the sprit and the intent of Oregon’s Public Meetings Law. 

In Peter Sorenson’s model of open and transparent government, just two County Commissioners should be able to meet together and work out a joint position in private.  Then one of them could approach a third member of the commission and meet privately with them and try to get them to agree to that position and then one of those three could meet privately with a fourth commissioner to secretly get their support and so on until all five Board Members had been contacted and they had finished all of their deliberations in private and a decision had already been arrived at in private, without any public participation or even one public meeting ever being held!

I guess that’s what EWEB commissioner John Brown meant when he told me that, “It was his experience that all of the decisions were already made prior to the actual Board of Commissioners meetings.”  All of the time set aside for public testimony at these meetings would have absolutely no impact on the decision making process, he said, because in all likelihood the decision had already been made.  If you want to impact the process he said, “You have to attend the Planning Commission meetings,” and you have to reach out to your County Commissioner BEFORE the actual Board of Commissioners meets.  I guess the Board of Commissioners meetings are just for show!  Does this actually sound like open and transparent government to you?  Well apparently it sounded okay to Peter Sorenson and Rob Handy!  While we are discussing Peter here, this type of government collusion also apparently sounds good to Peter DeFazio.  Remember the Democrat motto “We have to pass this legislation in order to find out what’s in it ” (Nancy Pelosi).   It’s the kind of government that we can expect when Democrats are in charge, from Washington D.C. to Eugene!

Those “chain meetings” held to deliberate on policy issues in private, that Judge Michael Gillespie found so wrong, were directed by “the godfather of Eugene politics” Peter Sorenson, not by Rob (I’m not so) Handy.  They were directed and steered by Peter Sorenson with a single purpose in mind: to formulate a public policy decision behind closed doors in private deliberations.  That is just what Judge Gillespie said when he distinguished between Commissioner Stewart’s inadvertent involvement and Sorenson’s and Handy’s willful “conspiracy.”  They did willfully conspire together to violate the spirit and the intent  of Oregon’s Public Meetings Law.  Commissioner Stewart did not!  He only innocently and inadvertently got caught up in Sorenson’s and Handy’s scheme by responding with a defiant answer to one of their questions that they asked him in private. 

Because Sorenson and Handy (Pete and Rob) were found in willful violation of the Public Meetings Law, Lane County is not responsible to pay for their legal fees, and I don’t think that they should! It looks to me like former Commissioner Dumdi “had the goods” on both Sorenson and Handy and she knew it!  Plus she chose not to name Commissioner Stewart in the law suit.  Way to go Ellie!  If she had named Stewart in the lawsuit, Lane County would have to pay for all of his legal fees because Judge Gillespie found that he was not in “willful violation.”  All I can say is two thumbs up for you Ellie!  Thank you for doing your homework!  Now it doesn’t have to cost Lane County one dime to come to the rescue of those two rascals Sorenson and Handy! 

Peter Sorenson knew better than this!  He is guilty of conspiring to violate and violating the sprit and the intent of the law if not the actual letter of the law!  I’ll give him that.  He was very shifty about it too, calling all the private closed door meetings "book club". Perhaps we should call him “Shifty Sorenson” from now on!  Rob “I’m not so” Handy and Peter “Shifty” Sorenson, hmmmmmm, that sounds about right.  Handy is a good name for a hardware salesman at the Home Depot (where he worked before he became a County Commissioner) but he had absolutely no prior political experience under his “tool belt” before he ran for a position on the  Board of  Commissioners.  After he got elected he needed all the mentoring that Peter Sorenson could give him.  Obviously!  But neither one of them have been very handy or helpful if they were trying to get around making public policy decisions in open public meetings without members of the public actually present.  

I guess the “Dems” wish that they had good ‘ol reliable Bobby Green back now.  By the way, what ever happened to Bobby Green after he lost his seat on the Board of Commissioners because he supported the idea of a Lane County income tax?  We don’t hear much about Bobby any more.  Last I heard he was cited for DWI and had been offered some cushy job as a State Lobbyist in Salem.  Gee it’s nice to be a Democrat in Oregon and have so many powerful friends isn’t it?  I wonder if he beat the DWI wrap too?  Yup, that “culture of corruption” sure does work well for Democrats doesn’t it?  But they told me it was just for Republicans!  Uh-huh yeah, right...

People have said that I’m too sarcastic. Well give me something nice to write about and I will, PLEASE!  I really would like to say something nice about politicians from time to time.  I’d like to find some leaders in public office that I could actually look up to!  So here is my offer to the new Lane County Commissioners including Commissioner Stewart: (I won’t waist my breath on the old ones!)  IF you let yourselves always be guided by good sound values and conservative principals, IF you always hold your head up high and keep your hands clean, IF you do the right things for the right reasons, IF you balance the budget without raising our taxes, or trying to implement new ones, IF you continue to remember that you work for the voters and not just the public employees in the County Administration building and that you answer to us, not to their unions, and IF you refuse to rubber stamp their public employees union agenda, then I promise I will say nice things about you and write about you in glowing terms so that my readers will learn to admire and respect you and you will have a loyal and devoted electorate!

"The truth, the political truth, and nothing but the political truth.
A journalist has no better friend than the truth."
- Scott Rohter

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