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County bed tax plan faces new challenges

Suits says state’s open meeting laws violated
Kathleen Ellyn

Wallowa County Chieftain

Published on August 29, 2018 8:25AM

Wallowa County Commissioners have been hit with two new challenges to the proposed increase of the Transit Lodging Tax in the unincorporated areas of the county.

Attorney Benjamin Boyd, representing David Hurley, owner of Eagle Cap Chalets at Wallowa Lake, submitted a suit and a challenge with regard to the way the measure was brought forward.

Hurley had previously issued a challenge of the legality of the ballot measure on Aug. 17.

The suit filed Aug. 24 alleges that the Wallowa County Commissioners violated Oregon’s Public Meetings Law in 17 ways.

According to court documents, commissioners held public meetings on the proposed increase in transient lodging tax without providing the public with any substantive information such as a draft of the tax measure, a plan or budget for the use of the tax or information about how the tax complied with Oregon law concerning narrowly defined uses of Transit Lodging Taxes.

Hurley had confronted commissioners at the June 4 board of commissioners meeting with his concern that no one had seen a plan, budget or draft ordinance for raising the tax and asked that further meetings be postponed until a formal proposal on the matter could be produced.

That was not done.

It is further alleged that the commissioners did not provide notice to property owners affected by the proposal when the idea was first introduced, did not publish other scheduled meeting times in the local newspaper or notify the press of these meetings as requested, did not publish agendas for three public meetings, and that on the morning of the June 26 meeting, despite the lack of agenda for the meeting, Commissioner Todd Nash advised the president of the county fair board Brinda Stanley that a vote would be taken at that meeting.

The suit states: “Commissioner Nash’s announcement at the start of the June 26 special meeting was the first indication given to the public that the commissioners had planned to make a final, public decision concerning the proposed tax increase during the June 26 meeting.”

Furthermore, the suit alleges that instructing county council, Attorney Paige Sully, to draft the ballot title before making the public decision to refer the measure to voters indicates the decision to refer the measure to voters was made in secret before the June 26 special meeting.

Oregon statute requires that the public be informed and aware of deliberations and decisions of the governing bodies and the information upon which such decisions were made.

The suit asks that the notices given and decisions made in violation of Oregon’s Public Meetings Law be voided; commissioners be ordered to refrain from further violations of Oregon’s Public Meetings Law; and Hurley be awarded his reasonable costs and attorney fees.

A further challenge to actions of the commissioners was presented via a letter of complaint from Hurley through Attorney Benjamin Boyd dated Aug. 24. The letter was in response to the commissioners’ “request for Ballot Title” to the Wallowa County Clerk’s Office.

The complaint maintains the county had failed to draft the proposed local legislation. Oregon statute requires that the measure and ballot title be filed at the same time with the county clerk.

Hurley had filed a request on July 24 asking for copies of the “proposed ballot title and ballot measure” and did not receive a copy of the measure. The letter suggests that the reason he did not receive the ballot measure is because it does not exist.

Commissioners were given an opportunity to respond to the filings through Sully.


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