With ballots hitting the mailbox this weekend, Laura Bridges has decided to go public with charges that she falsified public records at the direction of her former boss, Multnomah County Chair Diane Linn.
It's a secret Bridges says has burdened her since she quit as Linn's senior adviser in January 2004, after more than two years on the job.
Bridges, 37, is now a communications manager for the City of Gresham. She decided to come forward because she was troubled by the March resignation of longtime county finance director Dave Boyer, who accused Linn's office of asking him to misrepresent information to the public. Linn has ascribed Boyer's accusation to a miscommunication.
Bridges also cited a WW story earlier this month that said Linn's appointment calendar showed she worked longer hours than all but one of her four colleagues during the first two months of 2006 (see "Whistle While You Shirk?" WW, April 12, 2006).
"It all just came flooding back," Bridges told WW. "There's almost an unwritten rule. You don't talk about your elected unless you're saying something good, even after you leave. You keep it to yourself and you move on.
"I'm scared because I feel like I'm breaking that pact," Bridges says. "But people need to speak out when elected officials act improperly."
Bridges realizes that the timing of her announcement—days before voters decide whether to re-elect Linn—may cause some to accuse her of political motivations.
Linn disputed Bridges' charges and said, "The timing of this stinks like yesterday's diapers. If there was ever an issue about this, why didn't she bring it to the forefront earlier?"
While Bridges chose to go public shortly before the May 16 primary, she insists she has no involvement with the campaign of Linn's opponent, Ted Wheeler.
The specific event that troubles Bridges happened in September 2003, when an Oregonian reporter requested a copy of Linn's appointment calendar for the prior year, Bridges recalls. (Reporters commonly request elected officials' calendars, which are public records.)
Producing the documents would be as simple as pressing "print" on a computer keyboard and handing them over, says Bridges.
Instead, Linn called Bridges and Linn's then-chief of staff, Kathy Turner, into her office, Bridges says. There, she says, Linn went through the document with a highlighter.
"She started suggesting things to take off," says Bridges. "When I was instructed to do this...I looked at her chief of staff, looked back at her and...I said, 'We can't do this.' Kathy was looking like she was wondering if the windows in the [sixth-floor] office opened."
Turner says she does not remember the specifics of the conversation so clearly as Bridges. But she told WW that she was present and confirmed that Linn asked for the records to be altered.
Bridges said—and Turner confirmed—that Linn's instructions were twofold: remove certain events and notes from the calendar and add others to make it appear like she was working more than she actually was.
Bridges recalled taking out references to phone calls between Linn and her former chief of staff, John Rakowitz, a longtime Linn boyfriend who had gone to work for the Portland Business Alliance; some notes pertaining to discussions of Wapato Jail; and indications Linn had taken several days off for vacation.
Bridges says most troubling was that she was asked to make Linn's work schedule look more robust. Bridges says she added meetings that never took place, some scheduled earlier in the morning than Linn typically arrived, and added a boilerplate notation to make it look like Linn was returning calls and emails and available in her office on Friday afternoons when, according to Bridges, she was often gone.
Linn says she recalls the reporter's request for her calendar and recalls discussing with Bridges the need to alter the calendar before it was released, but it was simply to reflect "the reality of what I was doing, including meetings that hadn't made it onto the schedule."
Bridges says she's in a position to know that, before it was allegedly doctored, Linn's calendar reflected her true time because Bridges was the one entrusted with doing most of Linn's scheduling.
Linn emphasized what she viewed as the political nature of these charges and said that Kathy Turner is "the best friend of Liz Kaufman." (Kaufman runs Wheeler's campaign.) Linn was less clear on Bridges' motivation and pointed out that she wrote Bridges a "stunning recommendation" when she left the county's employ.
Speaking hypothetically, Deputy District Attorney John Bradley says a public official who directed an employee to alter a public record with the intent of committing fraud might violate forgery statutes, a felony, or misdemeanor statutes of tampering with public records or official misconduct. Under Oregon law, public officials charged with misconduct can be prosecuted—if they're still in office—for up to three years beyond the normal statute of limitations.
After the calendar incident, Bridges says she went from being one of Linn's biggest supporters to looking for another job. Colleagues convinced her to stay on through the holidays, but she quit shortly thereafter.
Bridges says, and Turner confirms, that Linn also used to ask Bridges and other members of her staff to run personal errands for her on county time. Examples given by Bridges include taking Linn's daughter's forgotten science project to her at school and picking her son up from the dentist.
She knew it wasn't right, but Bridges says she went along with it out of loyalty to Linn and a desire to help the busy single mom run the state's most populous county.
Linn says that if any staffers ran personal errands for her, it was only because they volunteered.
"I take full responsibility for my actions," Bridges says. "I should have had the backbone to say no. I knew it was wrong. I feel guilty. I should have quit right then."
Copyright © 2006 Willamette Week