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Wednesday, January 23, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Oregon schools chief faces 1,400 ethics charges

The Associated Press

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SALEM, Ore. — The state's ethics commission yesterday accused state schools Superintendent Stan Bunn of more than 1,400 violations of ethics law for allegedly misusing state-paid cars and telephones.

The Oregon Government Standard and Practices Commission made an initial finding that Bunn repeatedly violated a state law against using public office for private financial gain.

The case now goes to Marion County Circuit Court, an option Bunn chose rather than seeking an administrative hearing.

The commission began probing Bunn's expenses after the Oregonian newspaper disclosed possible violations in mid-2001.

Bunn says he kept sloppy records but did not break the law. He hasn't said yet whether he will seek re-election this year as the state's top education official.

"It was inappropriate that I procrastinated, but it was not an ethics violation," Bunn told the commission.

Bunn could be fined up to $1,000 for each violation, which could make it the largest ethics fine ever imposed on a public official in Oregon.

Most of the 1,433 counts against Bunn involve alleged misuse of state telephones, including a cell phone and a state-paid phone in his Newberg home, for personal calls.

The commission staff had recommended Bunn be cited for more than 2,200 phone calls. The panel whittled the total to 953, agreeing to drop from the charges more than 1,300 calls that Bunn says involved state business.

Those include calls to his former wife, who also works for the state Education Department.

Bunn has acknowledged making personal calls on state phones and has reimbursed the state $983, which he argues is allowed under state administrative policies.

The commission, though, contends that reimbursements don't erase an ethics-law violation.

Some reimbursements were made more than a year after Bunn's expenses and after The Oregonian began investigating his records.

The panel also accused Bunn of illegally using a state-owned car for commuting to work to Salem from Newberg on 375 days and for 49 other personal trips.

Bunn said that he believes his car use was appropriate and that at least two other past state school chiefs were assigned state-owned cars for their regular use.

Bunn, in addition, is charged with using a state-paid rental car for a day's personal fishing trip while in Alaska for a business meeting. He repaid $47 for one day's rental almost two years later; he says it was an oversight he didn't discover until then.

The commission dropped a charge that Bunn broke the law by having the state pay $119 for a hotel room near the Portland airport the night before a flight on official business.

Bunn said that without the hotel stay, he would have had to drive a state car to Portland and begin the trip on little sleep.

Commissioner John Schoon said that was reasonable and that Bunn avoided having the state pay parking charges by leaving the car at the hotel while he was away.

Bunn, a former legislator and former chairman of the ethics panel, said he isn't ready to announce whether he'll run for another four-year term in his nonpartisan post.

The commission could seek to negotiate a settlement of the charges with Bunn. He has said he would consider that only if he wouldn't have to admit legal wrongdoing.

Otherwise, "I believe I'll be fully vindicated," he said.

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