Medford City Council members Karen Blair and Eli Matthews received a sharp rebuke Thursday from other council members, who stopped just short of calling Blair a liar over a statement made two weeks ago about a proposed casino.
"Ms. Blair, you were less than forthcoming in your answer," Councilman Chris Corcoran said. "This was an attempted misconstruing of the truth and an attempt to mislead this council, as well as an attempt to impugn the character of Congressman Greg Walden and his staff."
Blair defended herself, saying the council members had misunderstood her point.
The dressing down by Corcoran and Councilman Bob Strosser was prompted by Blair's statements in a Sept. 20 council meeting in which she said, "I have a call in to Greg Walden's office with no answer."
Blair, who had urged the council to send a letter opposing a proposed casino in Medford, made the statement as she asserted that federal agencies were not being responsive.
The Sept. 20 comment came in response to a question from Corcoran, who asked her in the meeting: "Did you work through our congressional delegation in attempting to get answers from the federal agencies in order to expedite the process so that you wouldn't get the so-called runaround?"
Blair said she tried to contact Walden and expressed frustration about failing to get more information about the casino from three federal agencies.
In fact, Blair did have a conference call on June 19 — the day before the council meeting — in which she spoke with Walden's field representative, John Howard. The call was initiated by state Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford. Both Blair and Matthews acknowledged Thursday that they had participated in the call.
Blair stood by her earlier comments, saying she hadn't spoken with Walden himself.
"I stand by my entire conversation," she said. "How it is interpreted by others is not under my control."
Corcoran said he was disappointed that Matthews didn't correct Blair's misstatement.
"Mr. Matthews, you knew the facts of the matter when the discussion was being held two weeks ago," he said.
Matthews said Blair didn't specifically speak to Walden, but acknowledged that he had a "great conversation" with a representative in Walden's office.
"I think there is a misperception of what took place," he said.
Corcoran said he would have referred Blair to an ethics committee for censure if the city had that option available in its City Charter.
The council on Sept. 20 rejected Blair's proposal to send a letter to federal agencies opposing the casino. Instead the council decided to send a letter expressing concern about the Medford casino proposal from the Coquille Indian Tribe, which runs The Mill Casino in North Bend.
John Huttl, attorney for the city, at one point interrupted Corcoran during his comments, warning him that he was stepping beyond the bounds of Robert's Rules of Order, which establishes a code of conduct for governing boards. Huttl said Corcoran was close to personally attacking a colleague and close to calling that colleague a liar.
Corcoran, in turn, chastised Huttl for not responding in a timely manner to his request on Wednesday about the rules of what he could say regarding a fellow council member.
Strosser, the council president, also challenged Blair for criticizing Walden's office for being nonresponsive, noting that Walden's office always has been highly responsive to city officials.
"I would like to ask Councilman Blair to clarify what she meant," Strosser said.
Blair, responding directly to Strosser's question, said, "I have no comment."
Strosser said representatives from Walden's office made time during their busy schedules for a mid-afternoon call with both Matthews and Blair.
He cautioned the two council members about maintaining the integrity of their positions and to be careful in their statements.
"I would expect members of the council to be open, candid and fair in their comments," Strosser said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email email@example.com.