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Ethics Commission: Lindsey faces conflict of interest issues
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Ethics Commission: Lindsey faces conflict of interest issues

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The Oregon Government Ethics Commission has dismissed two complaints against Linn County Commissioner John Lindsey filed in connection with his dealings with property owners who were developing a marijuana growing operation in his rural neighborhood south of Lebanon.

But the commission, at a meeting held Friday in Salem, voted unanimously to make preliminary findings of violation against Lindsey on two charges that he failed to publicly announce a potential conflict of interest regarding the matter on two occasions in 2017.

The commission dismissed a third conflict-of-interest charge and another charge that Lindsey had improperly used his official position in an attempt to stop the marijuana operation in his neighborhood, and thereby avoid diminished market value and other property-related costs. 

Hayley Weedn, an investigator with the Ethics Commission, said in an email that she will now be "attempting to negotiate a settlement with Commissioner Lindsey" regarding the two violations. Potential sanctions range from a letter of education to a fine of up to $5,000 per violation, although officials said such fines are extremely rare.

Lindsey also could choose to appeal the commission's decision.

The charges stem from 2017 incidents in which Lindsey and several other neighbors, opposed the marijuana growing operation in their rural neighborhood south of Lebanon. The neighbors charged that the property owners — Mark Owenby and Michelle Page — were developing a commercial growing business, although the owners said that they were going to produce marijuana only for their personal use in their 90-foot-long greenhouse. The complaint to the commission was filed by Albany attorney William Templeton, Owenby's son-in-law.

Templeton charged that in 2017, Lindsey visited the property and presented a business card indicating that he was a county commissioner. Templeton also said that Lindsey told the property owners "you picked the wrong neighborhood" and "what you are doing is illegal." Templeton said that Lindsey went to several county departments searching for possible illegalities at the property. Templeton also said Lindsey made photocopies of the property owners' Oregon Medical Marijuana Program cards and permits.

Lindsey, along with his neighbors, filed a federal lawsuit against the owners. Owenby and Page have since moved and the property is for sale.

The report from the investigator to the commission noted that "the investigation provided many conflicting facts."

Templeton said that after reviewing 34 pages of documents, including emails gathered by the investigator, he doesn’t understand why the Commission dismissed all but two charges. 

An email from Weedn to Templeton said that the commissioners split her four recommendations and voted on them "one by one, because not all the commissioners were on the same page in terms of their reasonings." In the email to Templeton, Weedn also noted that there were “inconsistencies in Commissioner Lindsey’s recounting of events (which did not escape the voting members of the Government Ethics Commission), but that alone isn’t/wasn’t enough to find a violation of Government Ethics law.”

Attempts by the Democrat-Herald to reach Weedn for additional comment Monday and Tuesday were unsuccessful.

In a prepared statement, Lindsey called Templeton's charges "outrageous." As for the two remaining conflict-of-interest charges, Lindsey said he “self-reported” to county counsel and other officials of the “potential conflict to protect the names of citizens in emails marked confidential by staff.”

Lindsey also said he believes the complaint was coordinated as part of a “larger political campaign in his re-election.” Lindsey was re-elected to his position in the November election. 

Lindsey still faces an investigation by the state Department of Justice in connection with his actions in removing campaign signs made and placed by Templeton. The signs bore messages along the lines of "Don't Re-Elect John Lindsey," "Commissioner John Lindsey is Unethical" and "Commissioner John Lindsey is a Liar." Lindsey told the Democrat-Herald that he had taken the signs, because they were harassing his family and were in the public right of way.

Templeton reported the matter to the Linn County Sheriff's Office, which referred the case to the state attorney general's office. Kristina Edmunson, communications director for the Oregon Department of Justice, said Tuesday that she had no update to offer about the case.

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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