CANNON BEACH — A second ethics complaint against Karen La Bonte, Cannon Beach’s public works director, has been dismissed.
The complaint concerned how La Bonte disposed of surplus city fencing material in 2018. It was filed by Manzanita resident Rusty Morris, who has lodged other complaints against La Bonte in recent months. He has also begun to circulate a petition online calling for her dismissal.
A preliminary review completed by an investigator for the Oregon Government Ethics Commission concluded that more investigation was needed to determine if La Bonte had abused her position to benefit financially or skirt state conflict of interest provisions.
Last week, the ethics board voted to dismiss the case rather than investigate further.
“The commission did not find cause to proceed with an investigation,” Ronald Bersin, the commission’s executive director, wrote in a letter. “Therefore, the matter is dismissed and no further action will be taken.”
An earlier case against La Bonte after she used the sign company she co-owns with her husband to make signs for the city is still under investigation. A preliminary review found La Bonte may not have properly noted a possible conflict of interest in writing. The state investigator did not find evidence that La Bonte used her position to benefit herself financially.
City Manager Bruce St. Denis has characterized Morris’ complaints against La Bonte as a campaign of harassment motivated by personal grievances. He told city councilors that La Bonte will receive a letter of education from the state for the complaint about the signs.
La Bonte confirmed with The Astorian that she had seen a draft of the letter and that it was offered to her at the conclusion of the ethics board’s meeting last week. Going forward, she said she understands she will need to declare any possible conflict of interest verbally as well as in writing.
Meanwhile, Morris told The Astorian he has filed another complaint about La Bonte. The online petition he recently launched had gathered more than 30 signatures as of Monday. La Bonte said Monday she was not aware of the petition and had no comment about it.
The petition echoes the allegations of the first complaint Morris filed, claiming La Bonte did not disclose financial conflicts of interest with the city when she used Cannon Beach Design Co., the sign company she co-owns with her husband, to order pandemic-related signs for Cannon Beach last year. It calls for her immediate dismissal.
“I believe we should restore the integrity of our local government,” Morris wrote in the petition.
In the complaint the state dismissed, Morris alleged that La Bonte improperly disposed of fencing material the city had deemed surplus. He claims she offered it to a contractor who was working on her house in the hopes that she would get a favor in return.
St. Denis pushed back against these claims. In information provided to the state and The Astorian, St. Denis said La Bonte was tasked with disposing of old fencing material that no longer met the city’s fencing standards and could not be used.
After checking to see if other organizations wanted the materials, La Bonte finally offered the surplus property to three local contractors and a city handyman, according to St. Denis. The contractor who was working on La Bonte’s home took the fence posts, while the other contractors took similar materials that would have otherwise been thrown away.
At the time, a public works employee brought up his concerns about how the city disposed of the surplus fencing with St. Denis. He told The Astorian he was afraid the situation could look bad in the small community. The employee no longer works for the city. He said he was retaliated against.
Morris has claimed La Bonte also retaliated against her home contractor, something the contractor himself denies in a letter submitted to St. Denis and the state in February.
“In no way have I ever witnessed her using her position as the public works director at the city as a means to achieve personal gain or take any inappropriate action towards me or any of my business associates as claimed by Mr. Morris,” he wrote.