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Are BOLI Employees Doing Illegal Campaign Work During Work Hours?

The answer is: we don't know.

Why? Because BOLI redacted (blacked out) an alarming number of employee activities during normal work hours, which we have never seen before.

They used the excuse "In the calendars, we have redacted personal information and meetings that are not BOLI-related public business, as per the AG’s Public Records Manual, page A-3, under ORS 192.502(2)." that these were activities unrelated to BOLI business and they could withhold them under a legally untested Attorney General's advisory opinion, if the information was of personal nature, such as going to the doctor.

So, we have asked BOLI to clarify that all these redactions were for truly personal business and not activities with a public interest, such as working for campaigns or other non BOLI activity. Here is the contents of our clarification email to Charlie Burr, BOLI communications director:

"Charlie, in all the years I have been receiving public employee schedules from public records requests, I have never received one with redactions. I was quite surprised when I saw them on the calendars you sent and I feel compelled to ask you for clarification regarding the large number of redactions.

Are you asserting that all of the redacted information amounted to “doctor’s appointments” (or other similar personal matters) that were scheduled during working hours?

The Attorney General advises public agencies that information about an employee contained in a public calendar is subject to public disclosure under Oregon Public Records laws with the caveat that calendar items “such as social activities outside of regular working hours or doctor’s appointments...likely can be redacted from disclosure, under the personal privacy exemption ORS 192.502(2).” (State of Oregon 2014 Attorney General’s Public Records and Meetings Manual, p. A-3 and A-4, emphasis added).

Please note that the AG’s Manual does not advise you to redact any item that you consider to be something other than “BOLI-related public business”. This is especially true for calendar activities that occur during working hours. The calendar records you have produced are filled with redactions occurring during regular working hours.

These public records requests were spurred in large part from the public concern that persons employed to work for the public were spending working hours doing tasks that were specifically not “BOLI-related public business” (such as assisting the BOLI Director with campaign or non-BOLI political activities).

Please confirm that your redactions did not contain public records that were not specifically exempted under Oregon Public Records laws or turn over any of the redacted information of calendar activities during work day hours that are not clearly of a private and personal nature from the following public employee calendars: • Brad Avakian• Christie Hammond, Deputy Director • Gerhard Taeubel, Wage and Hour (attached here)• Steve Simms, ATD• Amy Klare, Civil Rights• Jenn Gaddis, APU • Terry Bonebrake, Fiscal• Jennifer Germundson, Technical Assistance• Marcia Ohlemiller, Legal Policy Advisor• Charlie Burr• Paloma Sparks• Jesse Bontecou"

So how did we get here?

From time to time, OCWF receives tips about wasteful, fraudulent or illegal government spending which we sometimes pursue with an investigation, usually including expensive public records requests allowed under Oregon law. Such is the case when we received an anonymous tip that certain BOLI employees were engaging in illegal campaign activity during their normal, taxpayer funded work day.The tip centered around these employees helping their boss's campaign for Oregon Secretary of State (and other illegal activities) while on the clock working for BOLI.

While not all tips are deemed credible by us to warrant an intensive investigation, this one included certain specifics that met our criteria for digging deeper. So on July 20th, 2016 we initiated a Public Records Request through DAS that was passed to BOLI asking for employee schedules, timesheets, credit card statements and reimbursement vouchers.

These requests cost OCWF $1,355 and are available in PDF form to interested parties upon request, free of charge.

The large number of redacted time periods on the calendars are quite alarming and raise many questions. Additionally, so do some interesting agnecy employee expenditures such as many charges at the Guitar Center, Safeway and other businesses that raise red flags and deserve additional scrutiny.

We will update this story with new information as we continue to dig and investigate.

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