ashland.news
June 21, 2024

Ethics Commission gives Ashland mayor ‘letter of education’

Tonya Graham, center, smiles while Ashland City Councilors Paula Hyatt, left, and Bob Kaplan, right, applaud after she was elected mayor in February. Bob Palermini photo/palermini.com
September 9, 2023

Graham should have recused herself on February vote to appoint herself mayor, since at the time it meant she’d receive a $150 more per year salary

By Damian Mann for Ashland.news

Ashland Mayor Tonya Graham will receive a “letter of education” from the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to end a conflict of interest investigation. The Ethics Commission voted 6-0 on the final order, also agreed upon by Graham, on Aug. 25.

“As soon as it was brought to my attention, I did my best to correct the situation at the next council meeting before I was sworn in as mayor,” Graham said in an email response. “I also acknowledged my mistake in responding to the State Ethics Commission. Their letter of education in lieu of a fine indicates to me that they understand that this was simply a mistake.”

The conflict of interest arose when then-councilor Graham voted on Feb. 7, 2023, in favor of nominating herself as mayor, a position that pays $150 a year more than a councilor.

At the time, the councilor position paid $350 a year and the mayor position paid $500.

During a council meeting on Feb. 21, 2023, Graham attempted to correct the error and announced she had failed to disclose a conflict of interest and asked a fellow councilor to make a motion to reconsider her appointment as mayor. At that time, she refrained from voting.

The six commissioners didn’t say much about the conflict of interest, but one member exclaimed “$500” and then whistled, according to audio of the meeting.

An attempt to reach Graham by phone during the discussion was unsuccessful before the Ethics Commission voted unanimously to send the letter of education.

“The respondent has agreed to the stipulated final order in lieu of completing the investigation,” said Monica Walker, investigator for the Ethics Commission.

In its investigation, the Ethics Commission pointed out that Graham didn’t announce any conflict of interest and didn’t refrain from voting for herself at the Feb. 7 meeting.

Graham violated Oregon Revised Statute 244.120, according to the Ethics Commission.

Graham has signed the agreed settlement, waiving any right to judicial review.

The Ashland City Council unanimously elected council Graham as mayor in February to succeed Julie Akins, who resigned in late January.

“I wish I, or anyone else in the council chambers, had remembered this small salary increase on the day the council was voting to fill the mayor’s vacant seat,” Graham said. “I would have much rather been in the hallway awaiting the final vote count as casting my vote was extremely awkward.”

Akins announced her resignation Jan. 23 with a brief letter.

Former Councilor Sean Moran also announced his resignation effective Jan. 24

“The two weeks after Mayor Akins and Councilor Moran resigned their positions was a chaotic time for all of us serving on the Ashland City Council,” said Graham. “As I considered whether or not to accept an appointment to fill the vacant mayoral seat, I simply was not thinking about the fact that the mayor’s position at the time included a $150 per year salary increase over my $350/year salary as a city councilor.”

Graham said ethics rules are important for good governance.

“I take them seriously,” she said.

Since Graham became mayor, Ashland voters approved Measure 15-215, which increases the pay to $900 each month for both the mayor and councilors.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.

Sept 9 update: Date of order corrected.

Sept. 12: Link to “letter of education” added.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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