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Moonlighting looks bad

Oregon’s deputy secretary of state has a choice to make.

Richard Vial, a former Republican state representative, was hired in April as the No. 2 official under Secretary of State Bev Clarno. Vial also happens to be a land-use attorney, which is where the choice comes in.

The Oregonian reported last week that Vial has been moonlighting since starting his state job, representing two separate clients appealing land-use decisions in Washington County. On Vial’s time sheet for May 16,when he appeared in two hearings for two-and-a-half hours in Hillsboro, he reported having worked a full eight hours.

Vial is paid $172,000 a year as deputy secretary of state. He declined to say how much time he his spending on his law practice, or what steps he has taken to address the conflict of interest that may result. He did reject the suggestion that he was collecting double pay for the time he spent representing clients, because he is not paid hourly.

The potential conflict of interest is clear: The two cases in question are now before the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, which might be audited by staff reporting to Vial. Whether that has happened is immaterial; the fact that it could ought to be enough to prevent Vial from representing clients before LUBA while serving in his state position.

Ethics is about more than just avoiding blatant corruption. The mere appearance of a conflict of interest damages public confidence in government, which is at a particularly low ebb these days.