Last Wednesday, the Bend City Council voted five-to-two to admit Jeff Payne, owner of Panterra Homes and the president of the Central Oregon Builder's Association, to the city planning commission. According to COBA's website, its mission is to "represent the building industry before government and the community." There is always concern when an individual who serves as a lobbyist moves into government service. It is even more of a problem when that individual leaves one foot in each organization. Unfortunately, only two current city councilors raised that concern last week. Councilor Nathan Boddie stated: "That organization (COBA) poured an enormous amount of money into the recent council campaign for some of the people behind this table. Those are the people that are now appointing him to a citizen body, our planning commission, which is now being tasked with our master plan development and implementation of our UGB, which is itself a process of which that special interest pushed back mightily on."
Councilors in favor of appointing Payne brushed aside the conflict, citing his extensive experience—something other planning commission members had told the council they were looking for. Mayor Casey Roats cited the state law requiring two people involved in real estate to be on a planning commission. City attorney Mary Winters said in this case, "to just be a builder is not a conflict of interest," and that for Payne to recuse himself in planning commission decision-making, he would have to have a financial interest in a planning decision or project. Councilor Barbara Campbell cited concerns not about Payne being a builder, but his position as president of COBA. Even in a small city where many individuals have overlapping roles, we share her concerns. Whether Payne will recuse himself from planning decisions is yet to be seen, but the comments by Boddie and Campbell shed light on the problem that arises from PACs meddling in Council elections.
According to Oregon Secretary of State campaign finance records, in addition to other contributions, COBA offered $25,000 to the Central Oregon Small Business PAC in April, another $35,750 in June and $30,000 in August. In short, COBA contributed heavily in this latest election cycle under the guise of the C.O. Small Business PAC. In addition to in-kind contributions, Councilor Justin Livingston received five contributions totaling $5,000 from the C.O. Small Business PAC from June through October, and $10,000 from the Bend Chamber PAC in September. Councilor Bill Moseley's campaign received three contribution totaling $5,000 from the C.O. Small Business PAC, and three contributions totaling $30,000 from the Bend Chamber PAC from September to October. Councilor Sally Russell also received $2,500 from the Chamber PAC in September.The Bend Chamber PAC lists among its advocacy council a property attorney, a mortgage broker, a commercial real estate professional and a property management professional, and lists among its legislative committee members a person representing COBA. While we understand that councilors are within their rights to accept campaign funds, and later to vote in favor of commissioners who may have had a hand in contributing those funds, it still doesn't look good.
For the sake of propriety, Mr. Payne should resign from his position as president of COBA if he elects to remain on the planning commission.