District attorney declines debate invite

Flaherty has not yet hired campaign manager

By Shelby R. King / The Bulletin

Published Feb 4, 2014 at 12:01AM / Updated Feb 4, 2014 at 08:42AM

Deschutes County District Attorney Patrick Flaherty hasn’t hired anyone to manage his re-election campaign and declined an initial invitation to participate in an April debate with opponent John Hummel, according to emails between Flaherty and City Club of Central Oregon board members.

“I have yet to ask someone to be my campaign manager because I am waiting to see if anyone qualified to be District Attorney files for election,” he wrote in a Jan. 27 email to Kathy Oxborrow, a board member and debate organizer.

Calls to Flaherty for elaboration on the statement weren’t returned, but Hummel said he’s “absolutely qualified” to be district attorney.

“He’s wrong. It’s not the first time he’s been wrong during his tenure, but thankfully he’s not costing the taxpayers any money this time,” Hummel said. “I am a criminal law expert who has trained prosecutors, judges and police officers on how to keep communities safe.”

Hummel, who filed his candidacy with the state in October 2013, accepted the invitation from City Club Board President Bill Buchanan.

“Any person in this county could invite me to a debate and I would say yes,” he said. “I will go any time, any place and anywhere to share my views on how to keep this county safe.”

The City Club-sponsored debate was scheduled for April 17. Sheila Miller, city editor at The Bulletin, was asked by Oxborrow to moderate. The Bulletin obtained the emails between Flaherty and Oxborrow through Miller, who was included on the recipient list because of her proposed involvement.

According to the emails, Oxborrow contacted Flaherty to ask him to participate in the event. Flaherty sent an email in response.

“Please do not schedule City Club events for me to attend without speaking in person with me,” Flaherty wrote in a Jan. 27 email to Oxborrow. “I invite you to call my assistant Nichole Brown to schedule a time to meet in person with me at your District Attorney’s Office. I would be happy to discuss your proposed ‘debate’ as well as your choice of moderators.”

On Jan. 29, Oxborrow emailed back to say she’d spoken with Brown and had been told Flaherty would participate. She also included details about the debate. Flaherty responded the same day, reiterating he wanted Oxborrow to come to his office to discuss the debate.

Buchanan’s assistant on Jan. 31 sent Flaherty and Hummel a formal invitation to the debate .

In a Monday email to Buchanan, Flaherty declined the invitation, noting he was “surprised at the disingenuousness” of Buchanan’s initial letter and was “disappointed that City Club has declined my invitation to discuss my opponent’s proposed debate.”

He also wrote Brown had not committed him to the debate, and noted he is “not opposed to debate” and has committed to one debate already because the organizer agreed to meet with him concerning the format, and he finds the forum for that debate “both neutral and wide-reaching.” Brown confirmed Flaherty has agreed to participate in a Chamber of Commerce Town Hall forum debate on March 4.

Buchanan in a return email clarified to Flaherty that Hummel “did not suggest this debate at any time” and indicated it was his own idea.

Hummel said he hopes Flaherty will change his mind about the City Club debate.

“I encourage him to accept, and I’m not giving up hope that he’ll participate,” he said.

Flaherty did not return calls to The Bulletin on Monday, but indicated through his assistant that he wants to have some say in the format and moderator before he’ll commit to the debate.

“It wasn’t that his answer was a firm no,” Brown said. “He just wants to talk about it.”

In another Monday email, Flaherty wrote he’s busy with an investigation that his office will present to a grand jury this week, and said his “duties as District Attorney come first and the campaign second.” He indicated he isn’t opposed to a debate but that his busy schedule means he “will not be able to commit to every invitation that is extended.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0376, sking@bendbulletin.com