Lehan doubles down on declining Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce endorsement

Carla Axtman

Last week, Clackamas County Chair and candidate Charlotte Lehan walked away from the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce endorsement process, citing "a high level of scrutiny on financial and ethical matters" for her. The reason? A recent audit has raised questions about the Chamber's spending of public dollars, specifically around paying the salary of Chamber CEO Steve Gilmore.

Over the weekend, Gilmore (and separately Chamber Communications Director Patrick Johnson) sent me a clarification that Lehan sent to the Chamber. I'm a little baffled how these guys think this helps the situation for them, but nonetheless, here is Lehan's letter as Gilmore & Johnson sent it to me, in its entirety. The letter is addressed to Wendy Buck, Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce President.


Recently I released a statement explaining my decision to not participate in the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce endorsement process. After having conversations with friends and colleagues, I believe it helpful to clarify these matters. It was not the intent of my statement to infer that the Chamber had engaged in any malfeasance or wrongdoing.

The Chamber and their board members have been partners with Clackamas County for the last thirteen years, providing key visitor information and tourism services including the award-winning Oregon Horse Country initiative. During that time our partnership agreements with the Chamber have not changed. What worked thirteen years ago may no longer reflect how the public service is best provided today.

I know that maintaining the public trust in Clackamas County is important to the Chamber and to me. Because recent matters of clarification and renegotiation are pending that relate to Clackamas County funding, I did not feel that I should seek the Chamber's endorsement this year. As you know, I have had an oversight role in the Chamber tourism agreements as a Mayor, County Commissioner and now County Chair. A member of my immediate family is also a “Gold Club” Wilsonville Chamber member. Considering these factors, it is important that we avoid even the appearance of impropriety on the part of the Chamber or me.

To reiterate, I continue to value the Chamber's expertise as it relates to economic development, small business, and tourism. I am proud of the national recognition Oregon Horse Country has brought to our region, and I look forward to working toward our shared goal of increased prosperity for Clackamas County.

I hope this clears up any confusion or misunderstanding that may have resulted from my previous remarks. Please don't hesitate to call if there are any other concerns.

Charlotte Lehan

Shorter Lehan: I'm not accusing the Chamber of wrongdoing. But others have and until that's sorted out, it would be unethical to participate in your endorsement process given that I have to conduct oversight of you.

This sort of ethical behavior apparently doesn't extend to Lehan's opponent John Ludlow, who accepted the Chamber's Government Affairs Committee recommendation for an endorsement.

I'm guessing that Gilmore and Johnson thought this was some sort of apology letter from Lehan. But I'm also guessing they didn't read it very carefully. This letter is a clear doubling down against participating in a problematic endorsement process.

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    I'm not sure I'm seeing your shorter Lehan. This seems to be the key sentence: "Because recent matters of clarification and renegotiation are pending that relate to Clackamas County funding, I did not feel that I should seek the Chamber's endorsement this year."

    This seems to be Lehan saying that it could be a conflict of interest if she supported Chamber funding that is under consideration in which she has a voice, looking like a quid pro quo if she got the nod and supported funding or payback if she didn't and opposed it, and that she is seeking to avoid a conflict of interest.

    Is there more behind the "clarification and renegotiation" that I'm not understanding here?

    Not an apology. Good governance perhaps.

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      Lehan conducts oversight of the Chamber. To participate in their endorsement process while allegations of wrongdoing were unresolved would be unethical. It's way more than a conflict of interest.

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    This is the key point:

    "It was not the intent of my statement to infer that the Chamber had engaged in any malfeasance or wrongdoing."

    The Wilsonville City Council, City Manager, and City Attorney have also determined no malfeasance or wrongdoing has occurred that is why we are moving forward with a new agreement.

    We look forward to a continued relationship with the City of Wilsonville and Clackamas County for many years ahead.

    We will also move forward with our endorsement process and will continue to support candidates like Metro Council President Tom Hughes, Commissioner Ann Lininger, and Martha Schrader because they are good for business.

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      Mr. Gilmore:

      I'm not sure why you felt a second letter helped your case. Lehan is simply reiterating what she already said.

      I'm rather alarmed that your organization would still engage an endorsement process with those that conduct oversight of you under those circumstances. I'm surprised you don't think so.

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    I do think she originally left the impression that it was for ethical reasons; in this letter she is clearly referring primarily to conflict of interest reasons. Which is a rhetorical step back.

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