The Oregon Government Ethics Commission on Friday announced that after reviewing two ethics complaints filed against Klamath County Commissioner Derrick DeGroot, the Commission will enter into an investigation into the claims alleging conflict of interest and taking a gift of more than $50 from an individual with an administrative or legislative interest.
Commission officials emphasized that the decision to investigate doesn’t insinuate violations of state statutes, but is just the next step in a process to determine whether state statutes were violated. The investigation will last 180 days, according to Commission investigator Susan Myers, who reviewed and compiled reports on both ethics complaints.
“On the conflict of interest matters, (DeGroot) would benefit from some additional education and I do believe that further investigation is needed,” Myers said.
The first ethics complaint, filed April 29, alleges that DeGroot attended a free hunting trip in northern Mexico with the owner of Rocky Mountain Construction, Jamie Jackson, thereby allegedly accepting a gift of more than $50 from a source with legislative or administrative interest who could financially benefit. Also listed in the complaint is a March 24 vote by DeGroot approving a roughly $2 million contract to Rocky Mountain Construction for paving work on Homedale Road.
Myers said DeGroot explained that he paid for his flight to Mexico as well as his lodging and food expenses.
“It is not clear if he paid Mr. Jackson or his outfitting company or if his payment was done by pulling his own weight, as he described in his response,” Myers said. “He does acknowledge that he did not pay for the helicopter ride from the airport to the camp. Mr. DeGroot also explained that he did not intend to hunt, but did one day when he was down there borrow a gun from another guest and hunt on the understanding that he would only be charged a fee if he shot an animal, which he did not.”
Rocky Mountain Construction bids on projects in Klamath County and was to be awarded an over $2 million contract shortly after this trip, according to Myers.
“Mr. Jackson would appear to have a legislative or administrative interest in Commissioner DeGroot’s actions. In terms of the value of the hunt, commercial rates for the hunt appears to range from $6,000 to $40,000.”
The second ethics complaint, filed on June 8, alleges that DeGroot voted to approve $483,000 in construction work by Rocky Mountain Construction at a June 2 meeting. Prior to that vote, DeGroot declared that his son Darrin DeGroot, who formerly worked for the construction company, was working for the company at the time. DeGroot voted for the contract, stating beforehand that he didn’t see a conflict of interest with his son working for Rocky Mountain Construction, since his position didn’t directly benefit.
Myers said it would appear that DeGroot had an actual conflict of interest at the time of the votes made to approve contracts with Rocky Mountain Construction, because he did not recuse himself from the votes while his son worked for the company.
Myers referred to a state statute that requires that he not only disclose the conflict of interest but recuse himself from voting on the contract.
DeGroot’s attorney Hafez Daraee addressed the comments of the Commission, emphasizing that Rocky Mountain Construction was the only company to bid on the $2 million construction job.
“The way the staff report is drafted seems to suggest the only reason Rocky Mountain obtained these contracts was because they may have given an improper gift to Mr. DeGroot and he then reciprocated giving them a contract,” Daraee said. “That’s not the case. These are publicly procured contracts. They have to go through a very strict statutory process.”
“We don’t think this is an actual conflict of interest...” Daraee said.
Daraee said DeGroot’s son could not have benefited from the approval of the contract when he worked for Rocky Mountain Construction due to his position being in a different division of the company.
“We ask that you keep in mind that even if there was a potential conflict of interest, I believe the complaint about voting on the contracts for Rocky Mountain truly fall under the category of form over substance,” Daraee said. “With respect to the hunting trip, I appreciate that you probably do not have enough facts to truly analyze that issue.”
Daraee said he wished the Commission and Jackson had spoken about the situation.
“You would have found out from him that he often takes his friends down on these kinds of trips because he is so busy that he doesn’t get an opportunity to hang out with his friends,” Daraee told the Commission. “They’re more so kind of a working weekend than anything else.”
The Oregon Government Ethics Commission will draft a new report regarding the investigation into the ethics complaints on Dec. 18.
Violation of a state statute could result in a fine of up to $5,000, according to Commission officials.