Murmurs: COVID-19 Testing Company Under State Investigation

In other news: Lawsuit against auditor bounced.

COVID-19 TESTING COMPANY UNDER STATE INVESTIGATION: A COVID-19 testing company operating three sites in the Portland metro area, as well as 300 across the country, is now under investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice. The company, Center for Covid Control, is already facing investigations in multiple states. The DOJ shared two complaints lodged against the company, both filed in October and alleging test kits were improperly handled. All three of the Portland locations were closed Jan. 10, according to the company’s call center, but the representative on the line could not say why. Allegations in other states include the company failing to report results to health authorities and emailing results to patients before tests were performed. The company says in an email to WW: “We are absolutely not conducting fake tests. Our employees and the employees of our independent operators are risking their lives every day to provide testing for patients.”

LAWSUIT AGAINST AUDITOR BOUNCED: On Dec. 30, U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut dismissed a federal lawsuit against Portland City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled. At issue was a 2020 report to the auditor’s fraud hotline raising questions about Kathryn Koch, a manager in the city’s Water Bureau. Koch’s husband worked for a company that sold $182,000 worth of machinery to the bureau without a competitive bid and in increments just below the $10,000 that would have triggered competitive bidding. Hull Caballero’s staff investigated the allegations, published a report, and referred the matter to the Portland Police Bureau and the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. In her lawsuit, Koch alleged Hull Caballero’s actions discriminated against her on the basis of her marriage and defamed her as she was never disciplined by the Water Bureau. Immergut agreed with the City Attorney’s Office that Hull Caballero was simply doing her job and that the lawsuit lacked merit. Hull Caballero declined to comment. Koch, who retired in October, says she’s disappointed the auditor’s office never interviewed her: “That is unfortunate as this all could have been avoided.”

INTEL ENGINEER RAKES IN CASH FOR CONGRESSIONAL BID: Matt West, an Intel engineer running for Oregon’s newly created 6th Congressional District, is announcing a sizable haul for his first quarter of fundraising: $619,000. Of that, $437,000 is from the candidate himself, the campaign tells WW. The numbers put the political outsider into serious contention in the Democratic primary, where he will face state Rep. Andrea Salinas (D-Lake Oswego) and former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith. Neither Salinas or Smith has reported fundraising from the latest quarter, though Smith reported earlier and raised $115,000 by the end of September. West tells WW he’s spuured to run by the climate disasters Oregon has faced in recent years as well as the pandemic. “It became clear to me that what we needed in Washington was more people with a scientific mindset to solve these problems at their source,” West tells WW, adding he hasn’t ruled out further donations to his own campaign.

BETSY JOHNSON ATTRACTS ENDORSEMENTS: Given that she’s abandoned the Democratic Party after 20 years in the Legislature to run as an unaffiliated candidate for governor, Betsy Johnson has faced questions whether she can attract the kind of endorsements that signal to partisan voters it’s OK to deflect to her. Johnson has already raised more than $3 million since entering the governor’s race, and this week she released a list of endorsements by two-dozen former elected officials, including two former Republican speakers of the House, Larry Campbell (R-Eugene) and Bev Clarno (R-Bend), and two pioneering Black lawmakers: Avel Gordley (D-Portland), the first Black woman elected to the Senate, and former Democratic Party of Oregon Chair Margaret Carter, the first Black woman elected to the Oregon House. “I’m excited for an independent governor liberated from party politics who will bring all voices to the table,” Carter says.

METRO COUNCIL APPOINTS DUNCAN HWANG: The Metro Council voted 5-1 on Jan. 11 to appoint Duncan Hwang to the District 6 seat left vacant when Councilor Bob Stacey resigned in October because of his health. After Tuesday’s council vote, Hwang also announced his campaign to keep the District 6 position. Hwang’s appointment runs until December 2022, according to Metro’s website, meaning he must win a special election in May if he wishes to complete Stacey’s term through December 2024. Hwang, who earned a law degree from Lewis & Clark Law School, is also interim co-executive director of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. “Our region urgently needs solutions to address our overlapping crisis of homelessness, affordable housing and climate action,” Hwang says.