A cloud of suspicion around the departure of former administrator Liane Richardson still hangs over Lane County government, in part because the full details of the investigation into her unauthorized changes to her payroll have never been released. On Jan. 13, former Lane County Commissioner Bill Fleenor filed an open records lawsuit over the report by USO Consulting. The outside investigation was commissioned by the county and released with 29 pages blacked out. Fleenor, the R-G and EW were among those who made public records requests for copies of the report. The R-G also has a public records lawsuit over the report.
Fleenor said at a Jan. 13 press conference that Richardson’s actions “didn’t happen in a vacuum,” and it’s time to “find the rot and root it out” because elected leaders should have been aware of what was going on. “Who knew what, when?” he asked, and he said the public would benefit from possible revelations in the report before the upcoming May election.
Three of the commissioners who had previously been supportive of Richardson’s work. Faye Stewart, Jay Bozievich and Sid Leiken, are up for re-election. “Is Lane County responsible to the people?” Fleenor asked, “or to its own special interests?” He added, “We need transparency.”
Fleenor’s attorney is Corvallis-based Dan Stotter and co-counsel is Lance Quaranto of Eugene. The county has said in the past that it redacted the report to protect the whistleblower who called attention to Richardson’s pay changes, and it cited Oregon public records law as allowing some records to be kept secret in certain circumstances, such as protecting whistleblowers and pending litigation. When asked for comment on Fleenor’s case, county spokesperson Anne Marie Levis said the county does not comment on pending litigation.
Stotter said the exemptions that the county is relying on are “‘conditional exemptions’ in that they expressly do not apply if there is a significant public interest in the records at issue.”
He said there “clearly is a public interest in understanding how it came to be that county administrator Richardson took funds from the public” as well as in how the county responded.
Stotter also said that Oregon law “requires a public body to redact (black out) only the limited portions of records that actually contain exempt information.” According to Stotter, the county has not met that duty with its “extremely broad redaction of everything in whole paragraphs, and even whole pages” of the Richardson report.
Richardson, who is divorced, has changed her name back to Inkster, according to her LinkedIn page, where she lists herself as an attorney-at-law since August 2013 and as an “independent consultant to The Pampered Chef.” Those who “liked” the Facebook page that Richardson used for county administrator updates now find that they are getting updates about kitchen products.