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Neighborhood Groups Exonerated

Neighborhood associations: not full of criminals. That was the finding of a city of Eugene investigation into whether three neighborhood associations tried to extort money from a local developer.

On April 11, 2012, City Councilor Chris Pryor initiated an investigation (voted for by the Eugene City Council) of three neighborhood associations based on a March 28 R-G story called “One Man’s ‘Extortion’ is Others’ ‘Tradeoff,’” in which a developer characterized settlement talks between four individuals involved in Jefferson Westside Neighbors, South University Neighborhood Association and West University Neighbors and the attorney of a developer as extortion.

According to the minutes, Pryor said that he’d received many constituent contacts regarding the story, and because the investigation would likely take more than two hours of staff time, he wanted the council’s endorsement. In a June 25 response to a records request, Pryor wrote that he received no emails, letters or phone calls about the matter prior to the April 11 meeting, but he had a couple of conversations with his wife and individuals not involved in the development industry.

The report finds that no neighborhood associations were involved in the negotiations, and the individuals who filed the lawsuit did so as individuals. Paul Conte, the former chair of Jefferson Westside Neighbors, was a key part of the settlement discussions. He says that the fact that a city attorney suggested the groups talk toward a settlement and was cc’d on all of the negotiations shows that nothing illegal or wrong happened. A subsequent email from the negotiating lawyer did call the discussions “extortion.”

Conte says that the names of the neighborhood associations have been clear from the start, but “I think that the neighborhoods and the individuals have still suffered from what the R-G ran, this irresponsible article,” he says, “and the council really was irresponsible in launching a formal investigation without even asking if there was any evidence.”

“In bringing appeals, we were attempting to get the city to follow the law, and everything that we did was perfectly above board and perfectly followed the procedures that were laid out,” Conte says.

Pryor did not respond to a request for comment by press time.