May 21, 2024

Whole Community News

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Campaign mailing questions Matt Keating ethics, judgment, conflicts of interest

10 min read
Voters never learned from local news that Matt Keating was accused of behavior that was racist and repugnant. Asked to share his side of the story, Matt Keating has been silent for 17 months.

Eugene City Councilor Matt Keating has never responded to constituents who first started asking him 17 months ago: ‘What the heck? What happened?’

Now in the final weeks before the city council election, a volunteer for his opponent is reminding voters of a public work session held Dec. 14, 2022:

[00:00:22] Councilor Greg Evans: I want people to know, and everybody in Eugene to know that I will not be intimidated by people who call me up the night before this vote with veiled threats… I am not going to be influenced by racial politics played by certain people at this table… It’s racist, it’s repugnant, and it’s against everything in my 62 years on this planet that I have worked for, I have stood for in terms of civil rights, civil liberties, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

[00:01:01] John Q: With Matt Keating seeking a second term, his opponent’s campaign shared Councilor Evans’s statements with Ward 2 voters. We spoke with the volunteer who put together the campaign mailing:

[00:01:11] Eben Fodor: It was a decision to try to get some information out regarding Matt Keating that didn’t seem to be getting out. So I thought it was important to do some kind of mailing, to get the story out, when you have a campaign and you’re talking about 15,000 voters, to help share that information with the public.

[00:01:28] And I felt like it was buried. And we really can’t seem to rely on the local news media that we have to cover a story like this. The (Eugene) Weekly, Register-Guard, local TV. They just don’t have the staff, they don’t want to get into it. The Weekly is practically nonexistent. The Register-Guard has virtually no local reporting, so we’re basically left with TV news, which is kind of thin.

[00:01:55] John Q: The threats reported by Councilor Evans were related to Matt Keating’s zealous promotion of Dan Isaacson for City Council. State records show four contributions totaling $2200 from Dan Isaacson to the Matt Keating 2020 campaign.

[00:02:11] Eben Fodor: The story related to Matt Keating and Dan Isaacson was just one element of the issues with Matt Keating that haven’t been reported to the public that have happened and I consider a number of these to be ethics violations.

[00:02:26] And so I did contact the Government Ethics Commission and talk with them about several of the issues with Matt Keating that concern me. One was receiving a $500 donation from the general manager of the Ems and also being the chief advocate for a $15 million bond measure for the Ems and also being an announcer for the Ems. And it’s also an announcer job that of course, promotes him and his name and identity, which as a politician, is beneficial to him directly.

[00:03:01] So I saw that as a conflict of interest and that wasn’t the only conflict. In the episode with Dan Isaacson, he received about $2,200 from Isaacson on the 2020 election season.

[00:03:16] John Q: Dan was among the highest individual donors in that election.

[00:03:21] Eben Fodor: And what we see is that when there’s a seat open on the city council to replace Claire Syrett, Keating’s person is Dan Isaacson, even though other councilors generally are not interested in him, but he pushes really hard.

[00:03:36] So the vacancy was Claire Syrett’s. She was the one who was recalled. And her campaign manager was Dan Isaacson. So how is it ethical that you would try to appoint the campaign manager of the person who was recalled? That’s just literally a poor choice.

[00:03:55] There were a number of issues there. And Dan Isaacson was on the Planning Commission when the middle housing upzoning was being first considered. The Planning Commission is the first opportunity the public has to have an input into it.

[00:04:05] We were all at the Planning Commission. It was something that a very large number of people participated in—one of the largest, maybe the largest public engagement in a Planning Commission process in Eugene’s history. The public input was largely opposed to the really radical plan that the city had put forth. And the Planning Commission was in the process of trying to endorse it and Dan Isaacson was one of the leading supporters of the radical zoning the city was promoting.

[00:04:35] So as a planning commissioner, he’s supposed to be representative and relatively impartial and certainly to weigh input into this matter. So it had been delivered by the city planning department, the zoning draft, and he had basically endorsed it wholeheartedly.

[00:04:53] So he starts getting all this input and people don’t like it for very good reasons. It’s a neighborhood-killing zoning change that they have planned. And since it’s now been implemented, we see that it is in fact a neighborhood-killing zoning change.

[00:05:06] But his response to this input (this is Dan Isaacson I’m talking about) was to denigrate, insult, and disrespect the neighbors, the citizens, the community leaders—the informed and educated input. And it was such an appalling reaction for a planning commissioner that many of us went to the Planning Commission and said, ‘He needs to be removed from the Planning Commission. He is not qualified to be on the Planning Commission.’

[00:05:33] It shook a lot of people up. I think a lot of people on the City Council saw that. That’s why other city councilors did not want to support Dan Isaacson. But it was not a red flag for Matt Keating. And it just shows the poor judgment, the lack of principles and ethics that we’ve seen examples of with Matt Keating.

[00:05:53] John Q: State land use law requires Oregon cities to establish a citizen involvement committee. Eugene has passed the job to its Planning Commission. But after middle housing, many people want the city to restore an independent committee, as it once had 20 years ago.

[00:06:10] Eben Fodor: I think we need a citizen involvement committee. And I think (Ward 2 candidate, Matt Keating opponent) Lisa Warnes is interested in seeing that happen. Do we need a Planning Commission? We have to make sure that it’s not a conflict-of-interest committee, which is what we end up with across the state. We see planning commissions that are just loaded with development advocates, and that can’t be the case.

[00:06:29] And so a citizen involvement committee needs to be filled with people that do not have conflicts of interest and are motivated by the public service type of motivation.

[00:06:39] And like I said, I talked with the Government Ethics Commission and raised a number of issues. And another one of the issues was an airline ticket that he bought for $1,200 dollars to attend the Democratic Municipal Leaders Conference last year. And $1,200 is a lot for an airline ticket. And because it was a Democratic Leaders Conference, it’s not city business. It’s a nonpartisan seat that he has. So that’s not really a legitimate city thing to do. So the city wouldn’t pay for it.

[00:07:13] It was before the election season started. And it’s not really an election-related thing, so I couldn’t call it a campaign expense. And interestingly, he fired his campaign up early for the year. He refiled with the city in September, and took this trip with campaign donations. So I found that to be an inappropriate use of campaign money.

[00:07:37] So again, I’m talking to the ethics commission, a staff person, she said, ‘We don’t have any jurisdiction over that unless it benefited him personally financially, we cannot consider it to be a conflict of interest.’ What it appears is that as long as you can make any contributions or bribes, in the form of campaign donations, they are legal in Oregon.

[00:08:00] That is jaw-dropping for me to see that we don’t have any laws covering what happens in a campaign, in terms of money you receive versus what you do subsequently with that money.

[00:08:13] In the case of Dan Isaacson, (Matt Keating) received $2,200 from Dan Isaacson, and then he pushes Dan Isaacson really hard, being appointed to a city council vacancy. It doesn’t seem like it should be legal.

[00:08:24] I found that we have a gaping hole in our ethics legal structure here, that I was not aware of. I thought we were a highly ethical state. But when it comes to campaigns, that’s not the case.

[00:08:38] John Q: Matt Keating hasn’t spoken about reported threats to Councilor Evans. Instead he’s highlighted endorsements from Democrats in federal and state offices.

[00:08:49] Eben Fodor: I feel like Matt Keating is using the Democratic Party as a shield to essentially protect him. And he’s using the strength of the organization and the leaders of the organization as cover. And what we found with Lisa Warnes’s campaign was that the Democratic Party had already endorsed Matt Keating, even before they knew who was running.

[00:09:15] Even though she’s a lifelong Democrat, she was not even given any consideration by the Democratic Party. Matt Keating was the guy. So they seem to be able to signal to people like (former U.S. Rep. Peter) DeFazio, to people like (Gov.) Tina Kotek, that, ‘Give this guy your endorsement and it’s done.’ And it doesn’t really involve any real discretion about qualifications or any inquiry into whether there are issues with this candidate.

[00:09:41] The workings of the Democratic Party machine essentially guarantees you get these kinds of endorsements if you are active and engaged in their machine. And he is definitely a Democratic Party machine participant.

[00:09:57] I find it to be really ugly. And as I said, as a lifelong Democrat, I don’t like the way the Democratic Party of Oregon works. I am curious as to whether things like Ranked Choice Voting, STAR voting will help to disperse that concentration of power that seems to be there with the Democratic Party. But perhaps it will allow other parties to gain some additional strength.

[00:10:26] John Q: We emailed Gov. Kotek on Friday (May 10), asking if she was aware of the accusations of racist and repugnant behavior before she endorsed Matt Keating. We’ll share that information when she responds. We asked Eben if he thought the voters knew what happened.

[00:10:41] Eben Fodor: They do not know. In fact, here in South Eugene, I would say that 99% of the public did not know. And that was part of the reason why we felt we needed to get that information out in a mailing.

[00:10:54] We weren’t trying to do a negative mailer. We were really trying to do an informational mailer and say, ‘Hey, there’s some things you need to know. There’s quite a bit more you need to know about the guy.’

[00:11:04] I haven’t even talked about the middle housing issue because that’s where I personally interacted with Matt Keating. It was very frustrating, and he was really unresponsive to not just me, but to all the neighbors that live here in my neighborhood, and to another group of neighborhood leaders that met with him subsequently about this middle housing issue.

[00:11:24] We would talk with him about all the facts and issues and what he could do, and he would leave the meeting and say, ‘I’m going to look for middle ground.’ And we’re like, ‘Huh? Here we are—we’re the people that you represent. Who is it you’re middle-grounding with? Who are these other representatives?’

[00:11:42] And after making some bad votes, for example, he was a deciding vote that instead of just complying with state law, that the city would go with a more radical rezoning that was much more intense and allowed a great deal more to happen, but he was the deciding vote in a 4-4 split on the City Council. I hold him responsible for what’s happened right next door to me.

[00:12:04] I have a three-story development going on just five feet away from the property line in my house. I’ve got probably 20 windows facing my front and backyard, total loss of privacy, construction’s been monumental.

[00:12:19] Nobody’s even experienced this before in Eugene, like I have, and that is you’re not just living next to a construction site where a house is being built, you’re living next to a construction site where six houses are being built.

[00:12:34] That’s six times the construction impact. It’s very heavy-duty, heavy equipment, big contractor groups coming in and out. So the impact has been really rough and it’s taken a long time. So it’s a bigger, longer, nastier project.

[00:12:49] Meeting with Keating, he was completely unresponsive to our concerns and he ended up voting without any regard, as far as I could tell, to the legitimate concerns.

[00:13:00] So subsequently to his vote, I filed a public records request and requested all the emails to the city council during the month previous to his vote. And what I found was that there were a lot of comments out of 700-some emails they received, about 450 were related directly to this rezoning and 87% of those comments express concerns or opposition to the zoning change.

[00:13:28] I think as a city councilor, as a representative, when you get 87% of the public input, that’s only leaving 13% supporting your position. The other 87% is opposing it and you don’t move one inch on your position? That is very poor representation. So that is my number one issue with Matt Keating, is a failure to represent neighbors.

[00:13:53] John Q: Voters never learned from local news that Matt Keating was accused of behavior that was ‘racist and repugnant.’ Asked to share his side of the story, Matt Keating has been silent for 17 months. A volunteer for his opponent is questioning Councilor Keating’s judgment, raising ethics issues about campaign donations and campaign spending, and reporting that according to a public records request, Matt Keating ignored almost 90% of his constituents.

Voting is currently underway. Ballots are due May 21.

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