PDC shoots down C-Tran complaint

And now, a dispatch from transportation reporter Eric Florip:

A state Public Disclosure Commission review earlier this month found that C-Tran followed election rules in the run-up to last year’s Proposition 1 vote. The ruling refutes a citizen complaint alleging the agency improperly promoted the sales tax measure.

In a June 15 letter to Camas resident Margaret Tweet, who brought the complaint last August, PDC Executive Director Andrea McNamara Doyle said there is “insufficient reason” to believe a violation of state election law occurred.

“For this reason, the PDC will not be conducting a more formal investigation or taking any enforcement action in this matter,” McNamara Doyle wrote.

In her complaint, Tweet alleged that C-Tran advocated for the measure and provided misleading information to voters, who ultimately approved Prop. 1 last November. State law prohibits local agencies from using their resources to push for a ballot measure.

Tweet said C-Tran’s public outreach ahead of the vote was not normal and regular, amounting to a promotion of the measure through door-to-door contact and other efforts. She also noted that the agency released an “annual report” in 2011, though it didn’t do so in either 2009 or 2007.

The informational materials C-Tran mailed to voters before the election were “short on facts, and heavy on service cut threats,” Tweet argued. C-Tran had repeatedly said it would need to reduce bus service should Proposition 1 fail. The measure boosted C-Tran funding by raising the local sales tax an extra 0.2 percentage point. The new rate took effect in April.

The PDC review found “no evidence” that C-Tran misrepresented the measure’s impacts, according to McNamara Doyle. And though the agency did not issue annual reports in 2009 and 2007, it did so in previous odd-numbered years, McNamara Doyle wrote. As for outreach efforts, much of C-Tran’s public engagement happened well before the measure was placed on the ballot, the review found, and the majority of materials reviewed made no mention of it.

Tweet also targeted C-Tran’s Board of Directors in her complaint to the PDC. Elected boards are, in some cases, allowed to express support or opposition to a ballot proposal. But that rule doesn’t extend to the collective C-Tran board — even though each of its nine voting members are elected officials, they are appointed to their spots on the C-Tran board.

Last July, the C-Tran board formed two committees to write voters pamphlet arguments for and against Proposition 1. Writing in favor of the measure were state Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, former Battle Ground Mayor Mike Ciraulo and Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt — at the time, chair of the C-Tran board. Coupled with robocalls and other campaign activity, Tweet argued that Boldt, and by extension C-Tran, improperly supported Proposition 1.

The PDC, however, concluded that Boldt’s actions constituted private campaign activity and did not use public resources. The law allows public officials to reference their titles in campaign activity, according to the review.

The ruling comes almost a year after the initial complaint, seven months after the Proposition 1 vote. It also comes just in time for Round 2: Light rail.

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