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Complaint against EWEB's Bishop dismissed.

Byline: Joe Harwood The Register-Guard

A state ethics panel has dismissed a complaint against Eugene Water & Electric Board Commissioner Sandra Bishop, ruling there's no merit to conflict of interest allegations made by a Salem-based nonprofit agency.

The Oregon Rehabilitation Association, which represents nonprofit groups that employ people with disabilities, filed the complaint after Bishop refused to recuse herself from discussion and a vote on awarding a five-year, $1.4 million EWEB janitorial contract.

Bishop, a professional lobbyist, works on behalf of the Fair Competition Alliance, a business trade group at odds with the state and nonprofit groups over the implementation of a 1977 law that requires public agencies to award - without competitive bidding - product and service contracts to qualified nonprofit firms employing the disabled. The noncompetitive public contracts usually cover janitorial, landscape maintenance and other chores.

The FCA maintains that the law was meant to address only the employment of severely disabled workers in sheltered settings. The group insists that a lack of state oversight has led to the awarding of noncompetitive contracts to some firms that hire employees able to work independently.

The Oregon Rehabilitation Association alleged that during a May EWEB meeting when the EWEB board voted to award a no-bid janitorial contract to Garten Services, Bishop should have disclosed her involvement with the FCA.

Garten is recognized by the state as one of the nonprofits eligible under the law to participate in the disabled worker program. Bishop voted against awarding the contract to Garten.

Given that FCA is often at odds with the Oregon Rehabilitation Association and its members, including Garten, Bishop should have declared a conflict of interest, the complaint said. Bishop refused to do so at the meeting.

After a preliminary investi- gation, the state Government Practices and Standards Commission voted unanimously to dismiss the charges.

The investigation concluded that Bishop and the FCA had no possibility of financial gain in the vote, so no conflict of interest existed.

Bishop said she always expected to be exonerated. "There was never any basis to that complaint," she said. "It was simply a harassment technique used by an advocacy organi- zation."

Bishop said many of the firms involved in the no-bid public contracts are flouting the law because "they are employing fewer and fewer disabled individuals and replacing them with automation and technology that cannot be operated by people with severe disabilities."

Dennis Koho, the Keizer attorney who filed the complaint against Bishop on behalf of the association, said he was disappointed by the ruling.

"We had a different opinion, but these folks (on the state commission) get paid to make unbiased decisions," he said.

Bishop, who has been the target of criticism in past ORA newsletters, said the complaint amounted to a personal attack on her. "This is not motivated by politics, it's motivated by money," she said. "It's really about the multimillion-dollar contracts" awarded to nonprofits who do not employ the severely disabled.
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Title Annotation:Government
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 20, 2005
Words:488
Previous Article:FOR THE RECORD.
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