The beginning of our story takes us back to early August, when Gene Gramzow did a neighborly thing and picked up the tab for several members of the county planning commission who were drinking at a Prineville restaurant. Crook County is a nice neighborly place, and Gramzow's gesture would have been fine except for one problem: His proposal for Crossing Trails, a 500-home "destination resort" that he wants to develop in Powell Butte, was pending before the planning commission at the time.
Gramzow picked up the tab when the planning commissioners weren't looking. When one of them, Arlene Curths, found out about it later she was concerned - justifiably so - about the ethical implications of the thing and brought it up with County Attorney Dave Gordon. No worries, Gordon told her; her share of the tab hadn't exceeded the $50 annual limit on gifts under state ethics law, and therefore she didn't have to declare it.
And then, after the next planning commission meeting, Gramzow did it again, secretly picking up a tab for Curths and fellow Commissioners Kim Kambak, Rick Wells and Jerry Crafton as they were unwinding at the same restaurant. When Curths told Gordon about it he advised her that she should stop Gramzow the next time.
Despite the legal reassurances, Curths and Kambak were troubled enough by Gramzow's generosity to recuse themselves from voting on Crossing Trails. Other commissioners weren't so sensitive. One of them, Wells, even went so far as to quip that if he'd known Gramzow was picking up the tab he would've drunk more.
The county says it has held training sessions on ethics that planning commission members were invited, but not required, to attend. After this episode we think the training needs to be made mandatory. Curths said she wouldn't have been swayed by somebody paying a $10 bar tab for her. We believe her. Maybe she and the other commissioners wouldn't have been swayed if a developer gave each of them a Lamborghini. Just the same, it doesn't look good. Taxpayers have the right to expect their public officials are making decisions without being influenced by gifts or favors - even little ones.
Okay, it's time to pass out the BOOTs:
One BOOT to each member of the planning commission who took freebies from Gramzow and didn't immediately pay the developer back.
An extra BOOT to Wells for being extra ethically challenged.
Another BOOT to County Court Judge Scott Cooper, who said that while he thought Gramzow's behavior was "slimy," it was just part of the normal "social grease" that helps things along in Crook County.
And last but not least, a big hobnailed BOOT to Gramzow for slimy, greasy, sneaky behavior.