Self-policing: not so fast

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Before the Keizer City Council goes too far in setting up a process for policing and punishing its own members regarding public behavior, it needs to slow down—or stop all altogether.

Mayor Lore Christopher acknowledges there is no process in place to address wayward behavior or infractions of sitting city councilors. The council passed a resolution at its Monday meeting to set up a three-person task force to investigate public complaints. The resolution grew out of an e-mail from a private citizen about his interaction with Councilor Ken LeDuc regarding his son’s Eagle Scout project.

A couple of citizens spoke during public testimony at the meeting—both opposed the proposed the resolution, mostly for logistic and legal reasons. They are right.

If a formal public complaint process is set up by the council it opens the door to a slew of complaints for the flimsiest of reasons-—a citizen may complain and call for an investigation if a councilor didn’t vote the way the citizen wanted. There are too many possibilities of such a citizen complaint system to be abused.

There are many more questions than answers in setting up a formal citizen complaint process. Would the bar be set so low that every complaint would have to be investigated?  Who would investigate? What would the punishment be if the council found that one of its members needed to be reprimanded?  What about due process? Would the council’s work come to screeching halt to hold hearings, depose witnesses, gather evidence?

If a councilor is ever suspected of breaking a law any investigation would be conducted by a law enforcement agency (police, etc.). That leaves citizen complaints to be about public behavior. In the case of Ken LeDuc, his statements about the incident are opposite of those of the citizen who e-mailed a complaint to the mayor. This is a classic example of he said-he said. The citizen was concerned that his son’s Eagle Scout project could be halted (it won’t be).

This is the first time in more than 30 years the council has needed to address behavior of one of its members. Past misdeeds were legal in nature and were handled by the appropriate authorities. The council needs to remember that being boorish or using crude language is not a crime and should not be subject to any action. Individual councilors (and mayors) need to remember —as Councilor Jim Taylor said—they are public officials 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Last summer, there was a discussion about councilors and a dunk tank at RIVERfair; the mayor and several councilors said it would be undignified. Personal decorum is the only complaint the council should address and informally. If the council sets up a formal investigative committee it will be an invitation to address issues that body is not qualified to investigate.

We can hope that the incident that precipitated this latest resolution calling for a task force is an isolated event. Generally Keizer has been led by citizen politicians who understand they need to maintain a certain level of decorum when in the public eye. One incident shouldn’t get the whole council riled up—it’s akin to going after a fly with a sledgehammer.

We expect all city officials, elected or otherwise, to behave themselves and treat the public with respect. For those who don’t we need to find a way to address that, but the council holding an investigation is not the way to do it.

-—LAZ

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