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Susan Francois & Gary Blackmer

What were this week's Rogues, city elections officer Susan Francois and her boss, city Auditor Gary Blackmer, thinking when otherwise-obscure City Council candidate Emilie Boyles dropped off 1,000 signatures?

Boyles submitted the signatures Feb. 16, seeking to qualify for $150,000 in public financing available for the first time in city elections. Francois and Blackmer had plenty of reason to examine those signatures closely. The public-financing program, co-sponsored by Blackmer and City Commissioner Erik Sten, is highly controversial.

The editorial boards of The Oregonian and the Portland Tribune hate it. Downtown business interests spent $350,000 in a failed attempt to put a repeal measure on next month's ballot. So amid such great scrutiny, what did Francois and Blackmer do when Boyles slid her signatures across the counter? Not much, apparently.

On March 1, WW reported more than 950 of Boyles' 1,000 signatures were Slavic names, a curiosity given that group's absence from city politics. Francois says she "spot-checked" 300 names and addresses.

"We followed the procedures that we have," says Francois, who was a key player in writing the public-finance law.

But Francois missed the most obvious evidence. The Oregonian's Anna Griffin did what Francois and Blackmer (and, nostra culpa, WW) failed to do; by inspecting every page, Griffin determined that many of Boyles' signatures were duplicated or signed by a similar hand (see for yourself at www.oregonlive.com/weblogs/cityhall/). Duh!

When WW asked last week to see copies of the checks that Boyles and other candidates provided to verify that contributors had given $5 each, as required, Blackmer explained that no such proof is needed. Duh!

On Monday, the city opened a criminal investigation into whether the signatures gathered for Boyles and another candidate, Lucinda Tate, by Volodmyr Golovan are bogus. (Golovan referred all questions to Boyles' campaign; she didn't return WW's call).

Francois says regardless of the investigation's outcome, the public-financing rules will be tightened. For the credibility of her boss and Sten (who's on the May 16 ballot with Boyles and, more importantly, public-financing critic Ginny Burdick), let's hope she's right.