May 3rd, 2010 5:33 pm | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, City Hall

Jesse Cornett Accuses Dan Saltzman of Ethical Breach

Saltzman, Cornett, Garren, Volm at Willamette Week's endorsement interview

The Merc reported today on an interesting 2009 decision by Commissioner Dan Saltzman regarding the City of Portland's Children's Levy.

Saltzman sits on the levy's allocation committee, which decides who gets grants from a taxpayer-supported initiative that Saltzman often touts as a personal accomplishment.

And last year, the allocation committee awarded a three-year, $600,000 grant to CARES Northwest, a medical facility that treats victims of child abuse and helps law enforcement officials investigate alleged sex crimes against kids. CARES Northwest is the only program of its kind in the Portland area, and one of its functions is to thoroughly examine and interview victims of child abuse in a way that minimizes harm to the kids.

At the time of the vote by the levy's five-person committee, Saltzman did not disclose that his girlfriend is a fundraiser at CARES, as first reported by the Merc. Although the levy's bylaws do not say it's a conflict of interest to vote on grants that could go to friends' or girlfriends' organizations, Saltzman's failure to disclose the relationship struck at least two of his opponents in the May 18 primary as a conflict of interest. The bylaws do say a committee member shouldn't vote on a grant that goes to a group "on which that member serves on the Board of Directors or as an employee."

Children's Levy bylaws
I just called all the members of the committee at the time of the vote to ask for their take on Saltzman's move. That list includes former Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler; Alissa Keny-Guyer, a consultant for nonprofits; Ron Beltz of the Portland Business Alliance; and Adrienne Livingston, executive director of the Black United Fund of Oregon.

Only Keny-Guyer answered her phone, and she was caught totally off-guard by the question of whether Saltzman should have disclosed his relationship. But she said initially it would have been better if Saltzman had acknowledged the connection, although she later said she didn't think he'd committed an ethics violation. "It would have been nice to know," she says. "I would have still voted for that grant." (All five members of the committee voted for the grant.)

Keny-Guyer said her answer would have been more black-and-white if the question had been about a family member not a girlfriend. Then her answer would have been more critical. But, she says, "I don't think there's any question that that was a really good grant."

Saltzman's chief of staff, Brendan Finn, says his boss does not feel there was an ethics violation because Saltzman and his girlfriend are financially independent. Cornett, one of Saltzman's opponents, told the Merc he thought there was a violation. And Mary Volm, a second candidate against Saltzman, agrees with Cornett. Volm called the omission "wholly inappropriate."
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