County Council tables ethics complaint against John Blom

PVJR President Eric Temple fired back with a new ethics complaint against Councilor Temple Lentz

CLARK COUNTY — When a county employee faces allegations of violating their ethical obligations, the charges are usually heard behind closed doors in an executive session. 

However, they also have the choice to air the grievance publicly, which is what Clark County Councilor John Blom chose to do on Wednesday.

PVJR President Eric Temple in July 2019 at an open house on Freight Rail Dependent Use development at Hockinson High School. Photo by Chris Brown
PVJR President Eric Temple in July 2019 at an open house on Freight Rail Dependent Use development at Hockinson High School. Photo by Chris Brown

Blom is facing an ethics complaint, filed by Eric Temple, president of Portland-Vancouver Junction Railroad (PVJR), which has operated the county-owned Chelatchie Prairie rail line since 2004.

In that complaint, as well as a separate one filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), Temple alleges that Blom issued threats against his business over a campaign contribution made by PVJR to the Clark County Republican Party.

“These accusations are 100 percent false,” Blom said, referring to an ethics complaint filed by Eric Temple, president of Portland-Vancouver Junction Railroad (PVJR). “(They were) contrived by Mr. Temple is part of his effort to influence the election in a couple of weeks.”

PVJR, through Temple, wrote a $20,000 check to the county Republican party, which the committee confirmed was deposited on July 7.

Clark County Councilor John Blom at an event in January 2020. Photo by Mike Schultz
Clark County Councilor John Blom at an event in January 2020. Photo by Mike Schultz

Temple says he made no attempt to direct the party where that donation should go, but Blom believes it was an effort to funnel money to Karen Bowerman, who is running as a Republican against him in the upcoming primary, after Blom switched his party affiliation to Independent.

As of July 10, party Chair Earl Bowerman said no decision had been made on which races to spend the donation on. 

Karen Bowerman’s most recent campaign finance reports, filed this week, include no mention of any contributions from the county Republican party.

Karen Bowerman is running for Clark County Council District 3 as a Republican. Photo courtesy Karen Bowerman
Karen Bowerman is running for Clark County Council District 3 as a Republican. Photo courtesy Karen Bowerman

Blom has admitted that a campaign staffer contacted Amber Carter, a lobbyist who works with Temple, to ask about rumors his business was funneling money through the county party to Bowerman’s campaign.

Temple alleges that Carter was told Blom would “destroy me” if any of the money ended up going to Bowerman’s campaign, a claim Blom has flatly denied.

“I spoke with the member of my team and I was assured that absolutely no threats were made toward Mr. Temple,” Blom said in an email to Clark County Today.

Temple later offered a $1,000 donation to Blom’s charity of choice if he would make that statement while hooked up to a lie detector, and has since bumped the offer up to $80,000.

On Thursday, Blom indicated that he would not be taking Temple up on his offer.

“Mr. Temple’s insistence on working outside the established protocols is further evidence there is no merit to the accusation,” Blom wrote, “and his effort is meant only to influence the upcoming election.”

Sen. Ann Rivers (R-Vancouver). Photo courtesy
Sen. Ann Rivers (R-Vancouver). Photo courtesy

Temple has filed a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Board, alleging that Sen. Ann Rivers urged him in a series of text messages to ask the county Republican party to steer $5,000 of his contribution to her reelection efforts.

“This would solve a number of problems for both of us,” Rivers wrote in her text to Temple, which he has released publicly.

Temple says he took that as a quid pro quo on Rivers’ part that she would help smooth over ongoing legal disputes with the county in exchange for the financial support.

In a statement to Clark County Today, Rivers says the “problems” she was referring to involved “how fractured the Republican party apparatus is in Clark County.”

“Mr. Temple’s support would have helped mend some broken fences, which would then free us all up – business leaders, candidates, and elected officials – to be working on issues that affect our state and local government,” Rivers wrote, “instead of spending the time we do dealing with interpersonal issues between party insiders.”

The Legislative Ethics Board confirmed that a formal review of Temple’s complaint had been opened as of July 10.

County council tables ethics complaint

At least for now, the County Council has declined to take up a review of Temple’s complaint against Blom.

During Wednesday’s council meeting, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Emily Sheldrick said her initial review of the complaint indicated it was likely not directly tied to Blom’s actions on the council.

“Article One, Section B states that the rules govern the business of the County Council,” Sheldrick explained. “It is my opinion that the conduct alleged does not concern the business of the County Council.”

That drew criticism from Councilor Gary Medvigy.

Gary Medvigy
Gary Medvigy

“I think this whole process is completely defective,” Medvigy said. “Having integrity as a councilor would fall within the code of conduct. And the Code of Conduct isn’t narrow just to doing business from the dais. It’s personal conduct that impacts the integrity of the council, both ethically and conduct-wise.”

Normal procedure when a councilor faces an ethics complaint is to appoint two other council members to an ad hoc committee, which is chaired by a citizen selected by the councilors.

Medvigy says Temple’s complaint, added to a complaint filed earlier this month against County Chair Eileen Quiring, reveals cracks in the current process.

“We are not a huge legislative body that can have an ad hoc committee that’s untainted or far removed from all these issues,” said Medvigy. “I think we’re ill-suited to have this kind of committee, when we only have five councilors.”

Temple Lentz
Temple Lentz

In his original complaint against Blom, Temple argued that Councilor Temple Lentz should also recuse herself, since the company she works with, High Five Media, was engaged in Blom’s campaign.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Lentz said High Five Media did work with Blom in 2016, but is not currently involved with the campaign.

“If Eric Temple had spent as much time collecting relevant facts as he did screenshotting out-of-context information to send in an email, he might have been able to come to that conclusion himself,” Lentz said. “But that wasn’t his interest.”

Temple fired back Wednesday evening with an email to interim County Manager Kathleen Otto, asking to file an ethics complaint against Lentz over her comments.

“She openly stated the complaints I lodged against Councilmember Blom were ‘false’ and did so repeatedly,” Temple said in his letter. “Ms. Lentz did so without reviewing any evidence, which we’ve offered, and without interviewing a single witness (absent coordination with Blom himself).”

Temple also points out that Jim Mains, who is also a principal at High Five Media, is currently listed as Blom’s campaign manager.

Blom responded Thursday, saying he struck up a friendship with Mains during the 2016 campaign and asked to bring him in as an advisor this year.

“I have paid his separate company, Main Distinction, a total of $325 for that work,” Blom wrote. “You can verify this on the PDC. High Five is not involved in my campaign this year.”

A history of escalation

This latest dust-up between Temple and members of the county government is the latest in a series of increasingly vitriolic disputes.

PVJR took over operations of the Chelatchie Prairie rail line, a 33-mile stretch of track that extends from the Port of Vancouver to Yacolt in 2004. In 2017, PVJR and the county successfully lobbied for the passage of a state law which would allow Freight Rail Dependent zoning along a portion of the line through Brush Prairie.

After the county pressed pause on a planned rezoning of the area, Temple alleged that then-Prosecuting Attorney Christine Cook should recuse herself from the process over apparent conflicts of interest tied to pro bono work she had done for an Oregon environmental group.

In late 2018, the county opened an examination of the original lease, alleging that it may not have been signed by the full Board of Commissioners at the time, and could be invalid. Temple quickly counter-sued, alleging that then-County Manager Shawn Henessee was trying to force him out so the county could take over operation of the line and profit from the development.

Since then, the county has invested over $600,000 for an outside legal firm to fight PVJR in court. Temple has called that a waste of taxpayer money, though Blom apparently views it differently.

“Mr. Temple’s multiple lawsuits against the county have already cost taxpayers more than $600,000,” he wrote, “and spending any more county time responding to false accusations with no evidence will only waste more time and taxpayer dollars.”