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University president faces ethics complaint.

Byline: Greg Bolt The Register-Guard

A University of Oregon professor has filed an ethics complaint against UO President Dave Frohnmayer, alleging that Frohnmayer improperly failed to list a real estate sale and purchase on his state-required financial interest disclosure.

The complaint, filed by economics professor Bill Harbaugh, is under preliminary evaluation by the Government Standards and Practices Commission. The agency, commonly known as the ethics commission, will decide by Nov. 19 whether to pursue a formal investigation.

Harbaugh also filed a similar complaint with the Oregon State Bar, alleging that the omission violates the bar's ethics rules as well. Frohnmayer is a licensed attorney and former attorney general.

The complaint does not allege that the sale and purchase were in any way improper or that Frohnmayer was unjustly enriched by the transactions. The main issue is whether Frohnmayer properly disclosed financial information on a form known as the Statement of Verified Economic Interest, a form all high-level state employees are required to submit annually.

Frohnmayer has disputed the complaint and is filing a response with the ethics commission today. Frohnmayer said the homes were his principal residence, which is exempt from disclosure.

Harbaugh said that's not correct. Frohnmayer, who lives with his wife in the state-owned McMorran House south of the university, should count that as his principal residence and therefore should have disclosed their sale last year of a house on Baker Boulevard and subsequent purchase of a town home on Spyglass Drive.

"I think that his excuses for not recording this transaction are very implausible," he said.

Frohnmayer is required to live in McMorran House under his contract with the UO. The couple owns a private residence so they will have a home when Frohnmayer leaves the university; until then, they rent the house to a tenant.

Frohnmayer, who helped draft the ethics laws as attorney general, said he couldn't claim McMorran House as his primary residence because it's not his. He said the ethics law was meant to exempt from disclosure the house in which a state official has a primary economic investment.

"I know why it did, because I helped years ago to draft that provision, and the idea was not to burden down 10,000 public official disclosure forms with information about your home because everyone has a home," he said. "It's real simple, and the history is real clear."

Moreover, Frohnmayer pointed out that he did disclose ownership of his current home under the section listing income sources greater than $1,000. He wrote in "Rental of primary residence, 545 Spyglass Dr."

"There is not a single reasonable person who should be misled about what house we own," he said. "And I certainly don't want to mislead people that we own McMorran House when it's the state's house."

But Harbaugh also believes the purchase created a possible appearance of a conflict of interest because the Spyglass Drive house was purchased from Tom Williams, the former owner of Williams' Bakery.

The UO last year purchased the bakery's Eugene property and hopes to use it as the site of a new basketball arena. But Williams sold the business to United States Bakery in 1991 and has not been involved with United States Bakery since 2001, several years before the UO purchase.

Frohnmayer said Williams has submitted an affidavit stating he had no connections to the company at the time of the sale.

Harbaugh said he accepts that explanation and does not believe an actual conflict exists.

"I don't think that's true right now," he said. "I take him at his word and I think that's no longer an issue."

But he said the possible appearance of a conflict should have been enough to prompt Frohnmayer to report the sale on the disclosure form and to notify the Oregon University System and state Board of Higher Education.

It will be up to the ethics commission to decide whether Harbaugh's complaint has merit. If it does and finds that the home should have been listed, Frohnmayer could be required to file an amended disclosure statement.
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Title Annotation:Higher Education; A UO professor claims Dave Frohnmayer should have disclosed real estate deals
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 20, 2006
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