Last Wednesday, the City Council voted 6-0 to place an $18 million bond measure on the May ballot to help finance construction of new fire and police stations. The estimated impact of the bond on property tax rates is currently 29 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value. This number is subject to change based on the actual interest rate obtained when the bonds are sold, assuming the measure passes.
Employees in Albany and Corvallis have, in the past, been targets of complaints to the State Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s office alleging violations of a law that prohibits public employees’ use of public resources, including work time, from advocating for or against measures once they have been referred to the ballot. Most of these complaints have been dismissed; but in our case, I received a small fine for failing to note in a press release the potential cost per thousand of the last ballot measure referred to our voters. That decision is currently under appeal at the State Court of Appeals.
My advice to all City employees is to exercise caution when commenting about the measures while on work time. I would emphasize that this law does not in any way limit an employee’s freedom to exercise the First Amendment right of free speech when he/she is not on work time. I have written letters in support of and opposition to previous ballot measures on my home computer on my own time, and I was clearly within my rights to do so. Employees may choose to actively campaign for or against measures by going door-to-door, writing letters, putting up lawn signs, etc., without any fear of official action against them, as long as they are clearly doing so on their own time and not using any City resources to assist them. There have even been past decisions upholding an employee’s right to wear a button at work in support of or opposition to something on the ballot.
I think the likelihood of anyone filing a complaint against an employee other than a director or me is small, but I also know that it is prudent for all employees to be aware of the possibility. I plan to exercise my rights during future campaigns, and I encourage all employees to do likewise. I will also do my best to make sure I use no City resources during any election campaign, and I’m sure all City employees will do the same.