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Phestival website leads to request for probe

PHOENIX — A former council member vying for the mayor's office in November has filed allegations of misuse of public funds.

Filed Tuesday with the state Government Ethics Committee, former Councilman Steve Schulman alleges that Councilwoman Carolyn Bartell misused public funds in her duties as committee chairwoman for the Sept. 29 Phoenix Phestival.

But a fellow council member and co-chairwoman of the event defended Bartell, saying she and her husband, Stan Bartell, had gone out of their way and spent their own money to make the festival a success. Both Bartells are running for council seats in the Nov. 6 election.

Schulman said he filed the complaint because Internet searches of the festival's website, www.phoenixphestival.org, returned Google results in which the short description below the Web link promoted Bartell's automotive business, Phoenix Auto Center.

Bartell said this week that council members were aware of her volunteer role in the festival when the council voted to donate $4,800 for the community event.

As to the search engine results, Bartell said coding used for her business page was inadvertently relayed because the festival and business pages are hosted under the same domain, both owned by the Bartells.

"We changed the metatag or whatever it's called as soon as we realized how it showed up," she said. "Search engines don't recognize new text right away."

"There was never any intent to misdirect anyone. There weren't even any links to the other site.

"My question is, why is he filing this complaint now when it's election time? Why didn't he complain earlier or why didn't he call and say, 'Why did this come up?

"The complaint sounds politically motivated," she said. "I think he must be really concerned about the outcome of the election."

Schulman said he did not intend to go public with the issue but that Bartell informed the council of the complaint at a Monday council meeting.

While the Phoenix Phestival is a separate organization, Schulman said city funds were donated to the event and Bartell's business was promoted differently via the festival website than other sponsors.

"My concern is for the city and for tax dollars being used for personal gain," he said.

"And if it were politically motivated, I would have announced it to the council. She stood up and chopped me into little pieces. I wasn't going to say anything publicly but she brought it up at the meeting. I wasn't going to."

In addition to discussion between council members on Monday, local blacksmith Jason Couch expressed concern about the search engine issue. Couch declined to comment on Wednesday but said his concerns were posted on the Phoenix Council Watch Facebook page. On the site he wrote that the inclusion of such a description ". . . is only done intentionally by an HTML programmer."

Coach also wrote: "He may have the highest of intentions but whomever wrote the code was leaning pretty hard to one side. . . ."

Councilwoman Karen Jones, who coordinated the festival with Bartell, said she was "gobsmacked" by the allegations.

Jones said the Bartells paid for a website designer, a $1,600 bicycle stunt performer and helped with other festival costs.

"The Bartells are the kind of people who are all about Phoenix," Jones said. "If there's some kid who's raising money to go to wrestling camp, they'll throw in the last $300. They work on cars for people with no money.

"I have no idea what this is about but there was no gain. I think Steve is the only one who can tell anyone why he's done this. As a citizen of Phoenix who worked their behind off to make this a go, I just can't understand the motivation of people who step in to make sure we're all stepping in dog doo all the time."

City Manager Eli Naffah said the city attorney had consulted with the League of Oregon Cities to determine if the city should respond to the allegations against Bartell.

"He called to see exactly what we needed to do and they suggested we just let it play its course," said Naffah.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.