TALENT — A civil elections complaint against a former city councilman has led to a criminal investigation.

TALENT — A civil elections complaint against a former city councilman has led to a criminal investigation.

"It is now a criminal issue," said Don Hamilton, a spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office. "It's moved beyond elections. It's safe to say this is now a criminal investigation and that's why we can't say very much about it."

Darby Stricker, a planning commissioner who is running for mayor in November, said she filed an elections complaint against former Councilman Brian Roberts in November 2009, claiming he was promoting another councilman's mayoral aspirations before city staff. Roberts resigned his position on Feb. 7.

Though Hamilton would not give details, he said the investigation revolves around Oregon Revised Statute 260.665 Subsection 2. The statute covers undue influence to affect registration, voting, candidacy, signing petitions, solicitation of money or other benefits. Violations of some of the items in the subsection are Class C felonies.

Stricker, a former council member who serves on both the planning and parks commissions, said witnesses told her Roberts commented in front of city staff in City Hall that Councilman Bill Cecil would be a better mayor than Stricker.

"The gist of it is that you can't coerce staff about an upcoming election," said Stricker. "So my concern was that it was making the staff feel very harassed.

"There's a huge amount of misinformation running around. I want to set the record straight on Brian Roberts' involvement and (City Manager) Jay Henry's position," said Stricker. "(Brian) did not violate any campaign finance laws. What he was doing was wrong, but I don't want it to be overstated."

Stricker said she also was concerned that Roberts was holding meetings behind closed doors with Henry. Stricker said witnesses told her Roberts would announce that he was going to discuss Cecil's candidacy with Henry before he went into a private meeting.

Stricker said Roberts' actions took place over several months and she first heard about them in early September 2009. Roberts did not return calls seeking comment.

"What the witnesses told me was he was coming in and pitting one candidate against the other," said Stricker.

"He was talking about why Bill Cecil will make a great mayor and why Darby Stricker will not."

Stricker said she consulted with then City Recorder Cheryl Nicolay, who had witnessed Roberts' behavior.

Nicolay, who also served as elections officer, advised her to talk with Mayor Don Steyskal about the issue.

Nicolay was demoted from city recorder to administrative assistant on Oct. 1. She went on paid and unpaid leave beginning Oct. 15 and her employment was ended by the city Feb. 17. City officials said it was a personnel issue and they could not comment on her termination.

Nicolay's demotion came about two weeks after Stricker talked with Steyskal, Stricker said.

Nicolay served as city recorder from Oct. 1, 2008, to Oct. 1, 2009. She had worked for the city since 2004.

"I have exercised my rights and filed a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries," said Nicolay. "The Bureau ... covers whistle blowing."

BOLI representative Bob Estabrook said Friday he could not comment on the case.

Stricker had informally let people know she would run for the office earlier in the summer. She did not speak directly with Roberts about the issue.

"I gave the mayor ample opportunity, then Bill Cecil ample opportunity to put an end to this," said Stricker. "The mayor didn't respond. I was very disappointed."

"Until I get the results with what the state determines, I'm not going to comment," said Steyskal, who will not seek reelection as mayor. Attempts to reach Cecil for comment were unsuccessful.

"I shouldn't comment until we get the verdict back from the elections department," said Henry.

Nicolay said her attorney, Claud Ingram, will file a lawsuit against the city and Henry.

"We haven't filed the lawsuit yet. I'm still working on it," said Ingram. "I'm not at liberty to discuss it at this time."

Stricker's election complaint against Roberts is still in process.

"This case remains under investigation. As such, there is little we can say about it," said Hamilton.

"We like to resolve these as promptly as possible but we don't know yet when it will be completed."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.