The city has released a three-page summary of a controversial disciplinary action that drew the ire of the Bend Bulletin’s editorial page. The summary was released today as part of an ongoing tug of war between the paper and the city over an investigation involving a public works employee who was accused of providing preferential treatment to a vendor that won a city water contract.
According to the city’s own summary document and previous published reports, Chris Brelje, accepted a hunting trip in 2006 from vendors, including Consolidated Supply whom Brelje later helped to choose for a water meter replacement project. The city has previously acknowledged that Brelje’s decision to go on the trip, which was valued at least $600, was a violation of state ethics rules. The city has since disciplined Brelje, but he remains an employee of the city.
The report, which you can read in full below, points out that Brelje discussed the trip with his supervisor, who is unnamed in the report, at the time of the offer. However, a footnote indicates that it’s not clear if the supervisor knew that it was an expense-paid trip.
The city attorney’s office brought in an outside counsel to investigate the matter after an anonymous tipster made the allegations to the city last year. The city has subsequent refused to release the actual documents related to the investigation.
According to the city’s account, the investigation found “no evidence” that Brelje received kickbacks or provided special access to the contractor, Consolidated Supply, or its representative Rob Jackson, whom the report describes as having struck up a friendship with Brelje.
The city says it also found no evidence that allegations had been “swept under the run” by higher ups in the public works department.
While the Source doesn’t have a dog in this fight (we never made a records request) it’s worth pointing out that a “summary” such as this one allows the city to handpick the information that it finds relevant and frame the questions to suit its best interests. It is less than full disclosure, something that seems to be warranted in a case where allegations of inappropriate gifts and influence peddling have been substantiated. It’s also worth noting that the city is yet to disclose exactly what discipline was meted out to Brelje for his indiscretion.
Read the Report in Full.
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SUMMARY OF REPORT FROM LEGAL COUNSEL
The City of Bend hired outside counsel to investigate allegations against a City
employee. Under ORS 192.502(9)(b), the City must provide factual information
contained in an attorney-client communication that is not otherwise exempt. The City
received a report of the investigation from its outside counsel, and this document
contains the factual information from that report.
Initiation of Investigation
The City received an email on February 20, 2011, alleging:
1. Rob Jackson, an employee of Consolidated Supply, a company with contracts
with the City, took a City employee, Chris Brelje, on an all-expense paid hunting trip to
Heppner, Oregon shortly after Mr. Brelje was hired by the City.
2. Following comments made by Mr.Brelje that Mr. Jackson wanted to partner with
Mr. Brelje in a new business, Mr. Brelje hired Mr. Jackson to do work for the City,
specifically the replacement of water meter boxes.
3. Mr. Brelje supplies Mr. Jackson’s crews with all the parts for City projects and
allows them access to City stores to take what they need.
4. Mr. Brelje hired Mr. Jackson to replace the City’s water meter radio transponders.
5. Mr. Jackson holds poker parties at which Mr. Brelje is always the big winner. Mr.
Jackson and Mr. Brelje go elk hunting together. Mr. Brelje may be getting kickbacks
from Mr. Jackson.
6. Public Works Director Paul Rheault and Public Works Utilities Manager Paul Roy
have swept serious allegations against Mr. Brelje under the carpet.
The investigator tried repeatedly to contact the person who made the allegations, but
the person had used an alias and did not respond to emails that were sent to the email
address from which the complaint was made. The investigator tried, but was unable to
contact the complainant, who made it clear that although he/she was aware of the
investigation, he/she did not want to be identified or to be contacted by the City to assist
with the investigation of the complaint.
The investigator met with City staff to discuss the investigation, and then interviewed 34
City employees, including Mr. Brelje. The investigator reviewed two emails from the
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complainant, Mr. Brelje’s personnel file, City purchasing rules and personnel policies,
the state ethics code, and documents relating to the automated meter reading contract.
Results of the Investigation
The investigator got a good understanding of the policies and procedures in place within
the City of Bend for award bids and contracts to outside vendors, and specifically
contracts awarded to the vendors Olson LLC and Creative Utility Solutions.
The investigation revealed that Mr. Brelje went on a hunting trip to Ruggs Ranch in
Heppner, Oregon in 2006 as a guest of Consolidated Supply and other vendors. Mr.
Brelje was actually invited to go on the trip by Gary Everly, not by Mr. Jackson. The trip
was paid for by Consolidated Supply and other vendors. The estimated value of the
hunting trip was $600. Mr. Brelje acknowledged that he went on the hunting trip.
Mr. Brelje asked his supervisor whether he could go on the hunting trip. While the
supervisor did not give him permission to go on the trip, the supervisor did not forbid
him from going on the trip.1
While Mr. Brelje and Mr. Jackson appear to have developed a close personal friendship
after the hunting trip, the investigation did not reveal any evidence of favoritism or
improper contracting by Mr. Brelje or the City.
With regard to Mr. Brelje’s participation in the contracting process and any potential
influence over the award of City Public Works projects, Mr. Brelje, at most, participated
as part of a panel to review bids for contracts. For example, he was one of five
employees who made up the review team for an automated meter reading contract. For
the particular contracts in question, there was no evidence of favoritism or improper
contracting methods in the award of Public Works contracts.
With regard to the allegation that Mr. Brelje and Mr. Jackson have a close personal
friendship and that Mr. Brelje may have received kickbacks from Mr. Jackson (or
companies he is associated with), it is apparent and not contested that they are friends,
but there is no evidence of kickbacks or gifts from Mr. Jackson or the companies he was
associated with, other than Consolidated Supply’s taking Mr. Brelje on the hunting trip in
2006, as described above. No specific information regarding these allegations was
provided by the complainant.
There is no evidence that Paul Rheault or Paul Roy have disregarded other allegations
involving Mr. Brelje or have swept anything under the carpet. Neither Mr. Rheault nor
Mr. Roy supervised, directly or indirectly, Mr. Brelje at the time of the 2006 hunting trip.
Since moving into his supervisory chain, it appears Mr. Roy and Mr. Rheault have
managed Mr. Brelje appropriately and have appropriately addressed the limited issues
that have come up with Mr. Brelje and have not “swept” anything “under the carpet.”
1 Note: The report does not state whether the supervisor was aware that the trip would be paid for by a
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Mr. Brelje’s acceptance of the “gift” of going on the hunting trip—valued at $600 or
more—is a violation of Oregon’s Ethics Law, ORS 244.040, which was in effect at the
time the trip was taken in 2006. Under the 2006 version of the law, no City employee
could accept a gift valued at over $100 if the giver of the gift had an administrative or
legislative interest in the City, which the payer of the hunting trip had. In addition, the
hunting trip would not have been made available to Mr. Brelje but for his position with
the City. However, significant changes to the ethics law since 2006 clarify that the gift
limitation now only applies to employers who are decision-makers (either as individuals
or part of the group) relating to the gift-giver, and not to an individual employee simply
because he or she has an official position with the governmental entity. In addition, if
the alleged improper use of office relates to acceptance of a gift, then the only
consideration is whether the gift violated the gift restriction.
No evidence was found to support the allegation that Mr. Brelje hired Mr. Jackson to do
work for the City after comments were made by Mr. Brelje that Mr. Jackson wanted to
partner with Mr. Brelje in a new business.
The allegation that Mr. Brelje recently hired Mr. Jackson to replace all of the City’s
meter radio transponders is unfounded. Mr. Brejle participated in a panel of five City
employees who evaluated responses to an RFQ published by the City but he did not
hire Mr. Jackson, Mr. Jackson’s company or any other contractor for the City on this
The allegation that Mr. Brelje supplies Mr. Jackson’s crews with parts and supplies and
allows them access to City stores is unfounded. The City has a system that allows
contractors to obtain parts and supplies for installation on City projects, but is done
under supervision of the Public Works Department.
The investigation found no evidence that Mr. Brelje received kickbacks in the form of
winnings at poker parties.