The Oregon Department of Transportation’s Gregg Dal Ponte likely has not directly violated Oregon’s ethics laws. That said, his decision to take a private job on the side certainly doesn’t look good, and that’s a problem for an agency that needs all the public support it can muster in the months ahead.

Dal Ponte is the man in charge of ODOT’s Motor Carrier Transportation Division, which regulates the trucking industry within the state. He’s due to retire, but he’ll spend the next year at the same job he has today, according to the Portland Tribune. He’ll become a part-time state employee so he can receive his Public Employees Retirement System benefits.

Meanwhile, Dal Ponte has accepted a seat on the board of directors of a company called ERoad. The New Zealand-based business sells a satellite tracking system that makes it easier for Oregon truckers to comply with the state’s weight-mile tax law. Dal Ponte will receive $35,000 annually for his service.

Holding the two positions simultaneously is apparently perfectly legal. ERoad does not do business directly with the state, but rather with truckers regulated and taxed by the state. Oregon law does not bar the kind of work Del Ponte will do, but it does set restrictions on it. He cannot, for example, conduct ERoad business on state time.

That’s not good enough, unfortunately. Del Ponte no doubt is a valuable state employee and equally valuable member of the ERoad board. But ERoad sells to companies regulated by Del Ponte, and some may believe his position on the private board gives ERoad an “in” where state regulations are concerned. They might buy ERoad products as a result of that belief.

Worse, ODOT needs money badly, and to get it, it must persuade Oregon lawmakers that it is careful and spends wisely the billions it already receives in state gas tax, vehicle registration and other revenues. That’s likely to be an uphill battle.

Ethics questions do not make that job easier. Dal Ponte’s ERoad job complicates the matter. If he believes he can still be of service to Oregon, he should give up the ERoad position, at least for now. Perceptions do count where ethical questions are concerned.

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