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As election nears, commissioner finds himself in ongoing dispute

Linn County Commissioner John Lindsey, who is running for re-election, has found himself in an ongoing skirmish over the past several months with a relative of a former neighbor.

Albany resident William Templeton, who has filed an ethics complaint against Lindsey, has reported to authorities that the commissioner has stolen his political campaign signs. This came after Lindsey and some other neighbors who live in the Rock Hill area of Lebanon, sued Templeton’s family members over a marijuana grow operation.

Templeton sent trail camera photos to The New Era on the evening of Sept. 28, depicting what Templeton said was Lindsey holding political signs, visible through brush on a roadside.

Templeton said he reported the theft and turned over footage  from an earlier incident to the Linn County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Jim Yon said the Sheriff’s Office referred the case to the Oregon State Police. State Police Cpt. Tim Fox said that OSP referred the case to the Oregon Department of Justice.

Kristina Edmunson of the DOJ said the agency does not “have any additional information to share at this time.”

Templeton said he was exercising his rights and dispersed 120 campaign signs on public and private land two weeks ago in approximately 25 locations across the county.

Within 24 hours, he said, he realized that 116 of the signs had been stolen. Templeton said surveillance footage from his coffee stand, Dragon’s Brew Espresso, showed what he described as Lindsey stealing four signs from private property at 11:55 p.m. on Sept. 20.

He turned the footage over to the Sheriff’s Office and reported the theft at that time, Templeton said, and he was able to capture photos of Lindsey taking additional signs on Sept. 22.

Templeton sent The New Era two photos visible on the back of a “Stealth Cam” showing Lindsey with signs in his hands next to a roadway. In the photos, a sign in Lindsey’s hand and one in the grass next to the road say, “Commissioner John Lindsey is a liar.” Lindsey is carrying a camera around his neck in one photo.

Templeton also provided to The New Era a photo of four of his anti-Lindsey campaign signs, reading: “Don’t re-elect John Lindsey as commissioner,” “Commissioner John Lindsey is unethical,” “Commissioner John Lindsey is under ethics investigation” and “Commissioner John Lindsey is a liar.”

Another photo shows two Lindsey campaign signs in a grassy area next to the intersection of Butte Creek and Rock Hill roads, near Rock Hill School outside of Lebanon, which is near Lindsey’s residence. Templeton told The New Era Monday that those were his signs, and that they were vandalized and cut, turning them into campaign signs to re-elect Lindsey.

Lindsey told The New Era that he took signs from public rights-of-way on highways 20 and 34 and near his house and from a friend’s property.

Lindsey accused Templeton of “stalking” his family and home, and he has put up signs right in front of Lindsey’s house at his driveway.

All of the candidates in this election were told that placing a sign in public right-of-way would result in a $500 fine, Lindsey said, and if Lindsey had placed those signs in public right-of-way where Templeton did, then Lindsey would have been fined, he said.

The photos Templeton took of Lindsey were at Lindsey’s house, Lindsey said. “As I’m driving out, I’m looking right at them.”

Lindsey said he received a call from a citizen who had these signs placed in private property in front of the caller’s house, but he wasn’t initially aware that there were 120 of the signs across the county.

“I actually put them out at intersections,” Templeton said, the same places where other signs, like fire regulations, are located. He also said he put them out on his own property and private property with permission.

He set up the trail cameras after the incident in Albany when police told him they needed color photos with Lindsey or an identifiable license plate.

Templeton said he put out only three of his signs at the site, not the one with “liar” on it. He claimed that Lindsey put that sign out and moved signs closer together so Lindsey could photograph them.

If the signs were placed improperly, Templeton said, Lindsey should have called the police, who would contact the road authority to remove them. The agency then is required to hold the signs, which are private property, for 30 days.

Templeton said the content of his signs, his claim that Lindsey is a “liar,” stems from incidents in the ongoing dispute.

Templeton was named as a defendant in a lawsuit by Lindsey and several neighbors filed in federal court in December regarding a neighboring marijuana grow in the Lebanon area. In June, Templeton filed a complaint against Lindsey with the Ethics Commission.

Ethics Complaint

In response to a public records request, The New Era received a copy of the state Government Ethics Commission’s preliminary review from the Ethics Commission on Oct. 1.

The Ethics Commission received a letter of complaint from Templeton on June 19. In it, Templeton alleged that Lindsey may have attempted to use his public position to stop medical marijuana from being grown in his neighborhood for fear it would diminish his home’s property value and that he may have failed to properly handle conflicts of interest as required by state law.

Compliance and Education Coordinator Diane Gould said the commission reviewed the complaint on Aug. 10 and voted to conduct an investigation.

The investigation may last up to six months, and the commission has a deadline of Jan. 25 to make a decision, Gould said.

“There appears to be a substantial objective basis to believe that one or more violations of Oregon government ethics law may have occurred as a result of Mr. Lindsey’s actions in relation to the marijuana being grown on Mr. Owenby and Ms. Page’s property in his neighborhood,” according to the commission’s preliminary report.

The complaint stems from circumstances surrounding a lawsuit filed by Lindsey and his neighbors naming Templeton and several of his family members as defendants, according to the preliminary report.

Mark Owenby and Michelle Page purchased a home in the Butte Creek Estates neighborhood in December 2016. Templeton is Owenby’s son-in-law.

With Templeton’s help, Owenby and Page built a greenhouse to grow marijuana on their property, according to the preliminary report. They asserted that the marijuana was for personal medical use in compliance with the state’s medical marijuana law and that they complied with the proper licensing required by state law and building permits required by Linn County.

Lindsey became involved when neighbors discovered that Owenby and Page were growing marijuana and were concerned that it was being grown illegally for commercial use.

According to Templeton’s complaint, in the spring of 2017 Lindsey went to the property and with a “hostile tone” began a conversation by presenting his county commissioner business card.

He began grilling Templeton about the nature of the operation and told him “what you’re doing is illegal” and “you picked the wrong neighborhood,” according to the complaint letter. Templeton asked the commissioner to leave.

After that, the complaint continued, Lindsey began to harass the property owners in a variety of ways, using his power as a commissioner to inquire with every department within the county to see if he could find anything at fault with the operation to find any reason to shut it down.

Lindsey reported illegal activities to the Sheriff’s Office, according to the complaint, but the Sheriff’s Office found no violations.

Sheriff Jim Yon confirmed that the Sheriff’s Office did respond to the property and found no violations.

Templeton and Owenby went to meet Lindsey in his office and Lindsey said the greenhouse was illegal and that Templeton and Owenby were “pieces of s – – -,” “liars” and “tax evaders,” according to the complaint.

Templeton claimed in the complaint that Lindsey went to the county Planning Department, demanding copies of everything regarding the greenhouse. The staff provided all public record building permits along with the medical marijuana cards of four cardholders for whom Owenby and Page were going to grow medical marijuana.

Templeton said the cards were provided to the Planning Department to “show good faith” and were not required, and Lindsey copied the cards, which are not available to the general public.

He began using the information on them to harass the cardholders to force them to shut down the operation, according to the complaint.

Templeton’s attorney went to the department in March and asked for all documents associated with the greenhouse, but the medical marijuana cards were not included, the complaint said.

“Therefore, Lindsey used his power to gain access to sensitive, non-public medical information, which he wouldn’t have had access to but for taking advantage of his official position.”

Lindsey’s motivation is explained in the lawsuit he filed, according to the complaint. “He wants it shut down because he fears that the grow is causing house prices in the neighborhood to drop, including his own.”

According to Lindsey’s notice of intent to sue, construction began without any apparent permits, and he visited the site in early June 2017.

The notice said Lindsey walked around the house with permission and noted the smell emanating from the shop building and the ventilation system. He then informed county staff about the issue, a typical process for county officials regarding land use violations.

Owenby and Templeton were informed that a private greenhouse would be allowed only if it met county regulations, but growing marijuana did not, according to the notice of intent to sue. During June harvests, the residents started another “marijuana burn pile,” and the Oregon Department of Forestry responded to put out the fire.

ODF Sweet Home Unit Forester Craig Pettinger was unable to confirm this week whether his agency responded to a fire there in 2017.

“The continuation of the criminal enterprise and the odor it produces has greatly reduced the ability of homeowners to enjoy the use of their property,” according to the notice of intent to sue. “Neighborhoods that have increased long-term drug use and criminal activity also see diminished values through the loss of desirability for families to live there. Residents have had to install security equipment and form ad hoc neighborhood watches.”

Further investigation is necessary to determine whether Lindsey used means of access to county resources that are not available to the public, according to the ethics commission’s preliminary report,  whether the nature of Lindsey’s position influenced county staff’s responsiveness or whether Lindsey directed county staff to spend time working on the matter.

Voicing assertions, like “what you’re doing is illegal,” Lindsey may have been attempting to use the influence of his position to stop the medical marijuana grow in order to avoid a personal financial detriment, according to the preliminary report.

Further investigation is necessary to corroborate the complainant’s assertion that medical marijuana cards are not accessible to the public and that the Planning Department provided it to Lindsey because of his position as a commissioner.

The report also said that the further investigation is needed to determine whether Lindsey properly announced conflicts of interest before acting as a commissioner.

“Everything in there is false,” Lindsey told The New Era, regarding Templeton’s complaint.

Lindsey complained to the Planning Department on June 5, 2017 in an email outlining his concerns.

He said there appeared to be no permits for a large excavation, no record of a water rights application for the greenhouse, no permits on record for Linn County and no land-use application on file for a commercial greenhouse.

In the email, he said he went to the property on June 4, where a man was doing some work with a bulldozer.

According to the Linn County Planning and Building Department, the land is zoned for limited farm use, which does not include the “production, processing, wholesaling, retailing, research or testing of marijuana.”

A complaint was filed with the county Planning Department on June 19, 2017, but Senior Planner Alyssa Boles said last year that its contents are confidential. She said that a code enforcement officer was sent to the location and a letter was sent to Owenby on June 23, 2017. Owenby responded in person at the county office on June 28 and submitted a letter on June 29, 2017.

The contents of the letter are protected under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Boles said.

HIPAA provides privacy protections for medical information.

“Based on what we know, they say they are being compliant with what they are permitted to do,” Boles said last year.

“Information about particular patients and growers, and patients who grow for themselves, is all confidential,” said Jonathan Modie, a spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority, last year.

On July 28, 2017, the Planning Department approved a permit to build a 30-by-196-foot greenhouse on Owenby and Page’s property. Templeton said the greenhouse ended up being smaller, 30 feet by 96 feet.

Lindsey told The New Era last week that Owenby and Templeton visited him at his office, and they were belligerent.

“They said I was out there harassing them on their property,” Lindsey said, but “I didn’t even know them until they came into the courthouse.”

The county issued a permit based on false information, Lindsey said. The county’s code prohibits growing marijuana except for personal use, but this one is being used to grow more.

Lindsey told The New Era: “Nothing that I ever did was in violation of the law.”

The medical marijuana permits are public information and are supposed to be displayed at the grow site, he said, but he copied the four cards along with other materials in front of Templeton when he visited Lindsey at the courthouse.

“You don’t mind if I copy this,” Lindsey said he asked, and then copied the material Templeton had brought  with him.

Templeton said the cards were on display at the greenhouse but are confidential.

Lindsey said he also addressed conflict of interest, emailing county counsel, the county administrator, Planning Department and commissioners on Aug. 29 after filing the lawsuit.

“This e-mail is to make it very clear,” Lindsey said in the email. “These actions are being taken by me and my neighbors and not Linn County. In this process, I am in no way representing Linn County in any manner. The action does not involve any Linn County staff.

“At no time shall Linn County legal staff advise or discuss this case with me. The only role that Mr. Karandy (county counsel) was to discuss was that this case has nothing to do with Linn County, the Linn County Board of Commissioners or Linn County staff.”

THESE are examples some of the signs that William Templeton says he posted around the county, some of which, he says, were removed by John Lindsey. Photo courtesy of William Templeton

Lawsuit

Ten individuals in the area of Hillside Lane and Butte Creek Road off Rock Hill Drive filed their lawsuit on Dec. 1 in U.S. District Court in Eugene. They named the property owners, residents of Albany, along with six other defendants.

The lawsuit accused the defendants of violating federal racketeering law and causing a nuisance. The plaintiffs said the odor, noise and increased traffic affected their quality of life and they no longer felt safe in their neighborhood.

District Court Judge Michael J. McShane partially granted a motion by the defendants, dismissing part of the case on Aug. 17.

Because the plaintiffs failed to allege a compensable property injury under the civil RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) statute, the defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is granted, McShane said in the dismissal order.

The court deferred any decision regarding the plaintiffs’ remaining state-law nuisance claims pending a status conference with the parties.

On Sept. 28, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, which claims that the property was used as a fully functional marijuana  production and processing facility, with complaints centering around the stench of marijuana, its apparent impact on a home appraisal and confrontational behavior and alleged harassment and intimidation by defendants, including what Lindsey said he understood to be a death threat.

The amended complaint is updated to include Templeton’s formal ethics complaint against Lindsey and that Templeton and Owenby had hundreds of signs printed with disparaging statements about Lindsey and placed on roadways throughout the county.

The amended complaint also claims an increase in criminal activity around the area, with two reports filed with the Sheriff’s Office in September 2017.

According to the complaint, trail cameras captured images of persons with flashlights prowling around the barn on a plaintiffs’ property twice in February and again in May.

“There was nothing illegal going on there,” Templeton said. “Basically, the county told John the people were doing nothing wrong. He misled his neighbors.”

The Butte Creek property was 100 percent a medical grow for the personal use of four cardholders, Templeton said. His in-laws intended to build a house and retire there.

The claim that the marijuana grow was causing property values to fall is false, Templeton said, noting that one of Lindsey’s neighbors is growing four plants on a fence line the neighbor shares with Lindsey.

Owenby and Page decided they’d had enough and sold the property in August for a $77,000 profit, Templeton said. Another property recently sold for a gain of $125,000.

The amended complaint is “100 percent lies,” Templeton said. “Fabricated again. It’s going to get thrown out again.

“He is out of touch with reality. He has a history of saying outlandish things.

“He says I’m harassing him and his family. I’ve never talked to any family members. I’m just defending here, and I’m doing it the legal way.”