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Battle for West Lane

Dawn Lesley says it’s time to end divisive county politics
Dawn Lesley
Dawn Lesley

Lane County Commissioner Jay Bozievich has never quite lived down dressing up in a tricorner hat for a Tea Party tax day rally in 2009. The incident came up again at a recent City Club of Eugene debate between Bozievich and challenger Dawn Lesley for the West Lane Commission seat. 

Bozievich was asked about going as Uncle Sam to the rally. He clarified that in fact the outfit was a colonial soldier’s costume. Lesley, when asked to weigh in, laughed and said not only had she never donned a colonial soldier’s outfit, there was also very little chance she ever would. 

This exchange points to the differences in Lesley and Bozievich’s approaches to politics. Lesley’s responses to questions have been thoughtful and measured. Bozievich has a history of knee-jerk responses and divisive stances on key issues affecting the moderate, rural district he represents, which stretches from the west side of Eugene out to the Oregon Coast. 

Bozievich declined to be interviewed for this election story. He informed EW in 2012 that he would only respond to requests via public records filings — which Lane County charges for. More recently Bozievich has occasionally responded using the county’s contracted public relations professional.

Lesley uses the word “polarizing” to describe not only Bozievich’s politics but his effects on the county and the West Lane district. Rather than reflect the views of his constituents, Lesley, an engineer, says Bozievich seems “committed to implementing his own ideals at the expense of the community.”

While the issues Lane County now faces are legion — from the homeless population to an ongoing funding crisis — the County Commission race has centered largely on the topics of Bozievich’s gerrymandering of commissioners districts, his handling of the Liane (Richardson) Inkster issue and the money he has been getting from resource-extraction industries and developers. Lesley tells EW that perhaps Bozievich and the conservative majority on the board have been distracted from helping county residents troubled by gravel mining, “by lawsuits, carrying on backroom deals and scandals.” 

Using expensive television ads, Bozievich’s campaign has been taking credit for county successes like passing a jail levy and bringing a state mental hospital to Junction City — successes critics say can be more accurately laid at the feet of Sheriff Tom Turner and Rep. Val Hoyle. 

This is not the first time Bozievich has been accused of taking credit where it’s not due — the R-G reported in 2010 that he took credit for a fiscal stability policy at Lane Community College while serving on its board, but President Mary Spilde and classified union president Bob Baldwin remembered it differently. The R-G reported that Bozievich later clarified he was not “single-handedly” responsible for the policy. He touts his time on the LCC board as his prior political experience.

Lesley is far from the only critic to bring up allegations of backroom deals and scandals. Since his election to the County Commission in 2010, Bozievich and the conservative majority of the board have been dogged by accusations of damaging the public trust in elected officials through actions like gerrymandering the commission districts — altering the district boundaries to affect their makeup and thus affect who is elected to represent those areas. 

Bozievich’s proposal for new boundaries drew heavy criticism at public meetings, in letters to the editor and other forums. The proposal, voted into place by the conservative majority, moved more Republicans into North Eugene to tip a borderline district, moved even more progressive voters into already heavily democratic South Eugene and, strangely, moved urban Churchill voters into the rural East Lane District (possibly affecting Commissioner Faye Stewart’s bid for re-election).

Former commissioner Bill Fleenor, who did not run for re-election after his term in the West Lane seat, says, “My main concern is the affects of the gerrymandering these political ideologues will have on our already skewed board make-up.” Fleenor says that there are more registered Democrats in Lane County than Republicans, “but somehow most of our local boards, including the County Board of Commissioners, have a majority of conservatives. This is not only wrong, but represents a fatal flaw in our democratic system.”

Bozievich’s staunch support of fired county administrator Inkster is also dogging his heels in this election. He proposed to the board that she be put into place as “permanent county administrator.” A public search was not conducted. In the end, saving the expense of a public search cost the county thousands in investigations and lawsuits. Inkster launched an investigation into the commissioners who did not vote to appoint her, Rob Handy and current commissioner Pete Sorenson, which cost the county at least $17,000. Her accusations also included allegations that Handy made “inappropriate facial expressions” at her. Her allegations were all determined to be unfounded.

County employees later told another investigator that Inkster had created an atmosphere of fear at the county. That investigator was hired after a whistleblower called attention to Inkster altering her take home pay following an aborted attempt to get a $30,000 raise. Inkster ran amok, Lesley says, and the board either supported her or was asleep at the wheel. 

Lesley says her more moderate viewpoint more accurately reflects the make up of the West Lane district. She has gained supporters from all sides, including animal advocates who have butted heads with Bozievich over cutting funds to the county’s animal services to Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio and Republican former Lane County commissioner Jack Roberts. 

The candidates’ fundraising reflects their divergent bases of support. Not unlike the urine-collecting repeat congressional candidate Art Robinson, Bozievich is getting big money from a conservative political action committee (PAC) pushing for a conservative win, which would ensure that a conservative majority makes decisions that affect land use, clean water, roads, public safety, mining and development. 

The Community Action Network (CAN) PAC, which brought former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to Eugene last month to speak and fundraise, has given $24,500 to Bozievich since April 25, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Orestar website. As of press time, Bozievich has only reported $10,000 of that. He has also gotten $6,000 from McDougal Bros. Investments — best known for mining Parvin Butte and for attempting to get a massive water right on the McKenzie River to sell water to communities in the Lane County area, along with developer Greg Demers. He also received $5,000 from Seneca Jones Timber Company, and he has paid $860 to Moonshadow Mobile, the same company the county used, with his urging, to draw his controversial redistricting plan. 

Lesley, on the other hand, got her largest donations from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters PAC ($5,000) and from her cousin, Jay Siegelaub (a loan of $15,000). The majority of her campaign cash comes from unions, Eugene Firefighters Fire PAC ($1,500) and supporters of progressive causes. 

Lesley says she thinks Bozievich might have more financial reserves than she does, with possible as-of-yet-unreported donations coming in from CAN, but says she will continue to run a “nuts and bolts” grassroots campaign as she seeks to undo the county’s “sad history of paralysis and polarized debates.”