UO Foundation acquires historic TreeTops mansion

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The history of the Treetops mansion at 2237 Spring Blvd is fascinating. It was built by Campbell Church in the early 1900s, and at 8,000 sq feet plus 2,000 sq ft of porches, it is still one of the largest houses in Lane County, and the state.

Church’s money came from the Alaskan gold rush. In the 1920’s Church and his son were pioneers in the Alaskan luxury tourist trade, with the yacht MV Westward. They marketed the Inside Passage and fishing and hunting trips to easterners and movie stars. The Westward is still in operation – though I’m guessing they no longer let passengers use the harpoon on whales:

Church also had an interesting connection to the Pioneer Father and Pioneer Mother sculptures to the north and south of Johnson Hall. These were done by Alexander Proctor in the 1920’s. Proctor was a Colorado mountain-man who sold his homestead to go back east and study art. He worked with Augustus Saint Gaudens and Daniel Chester French, and then became famous in his own right, for the lions at Princeton, and many other sculptures.

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More on Proctor here:

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(In the interest of full disclosure, I have to report that when I worked in the Wyoming oil fields our crew boss thought we needed some culture, so he arranged a special tour of the Cody museum for us. They opened the place up on a winter Sunday, just for 30 seismic roughnecks. This was before they had the Proctor work, but the curator showed us all sorts of other things, from Remington sculptures to rifles, Thomas Moran paintings and George Catlin sketches, and of course Charlie Russell, who was everyone’s favorite. I was about 20, this was the year after I left Columbia University to spend some time out west. I don’t remember that boss’s name but god bless him, and I sure remember standing around a Russell painting with a bunch of high school dropout guys who would scare the shit out of you in a bar, and half of whom had done at least a little time, and talking about art and being embarrassed they got it more than I did.)

Anyway, when Proctor came to Eugene to work on the Pioneer Mother and Father he brought his family. Church’s son and Proctor’s daughter were soon married:

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When Church’s wife died, he moved to California to be with his daughter. Before he left, Irene Hazard Gerlinger, the first woman member of the UO Board of Regents convinced him to give Treetops to UO. The state had recently decided to consolidate the independent university boards into what became OUS.

Ms Gerlinger was a formidable UO supporter, and she wanted to make sure the state board and its new Chancellor would be in Eugene and under UO’s control. So she had Church make the gift conditional on the Chancellor (or UO president) living in the house – otherwise it would go back to the heirs. As the remarkably prescient Ms Gerlinger wrote, “politically appointed boards do strange things”.

Her plan worked for 65 years. Then, in 2003, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski appointed Neil Goldschmidt as chair of the OUS Board. Goldschmidt was a former Portland mayor, US Secretary of Transportation and Oregon Governor, who mysteriously dropped out of his 1990 re-election campaign to retire to southern France.

Kulongoski brought back Goldschmidt, to fix Oregon higher education. As OUS board chair, Goldschmidt then brought in George Pernsteiner as Interim Chancellor.

Soon after that Nigel Jaquiss of Willamette Week broke the story about Goldschmidt’s statutory rape of the 13-year-old daughter of a political friend, starting in the 1970’s.  Or, as Goldschmidt preferred to call it, “an affair”. Goldschmidt kept it going while the girl was a UO Honors College student. She later committed suicide.

This story had apparently been long rumored in Oregon’s political circles, but had been kept hidden from the public. It may have been used by 1990 Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Frohnmayer to get Goldschmidt to drop out of his 1990 re-election campaign. (Frohnmayer then lost to a third party candidate.) Oregon legislator Vicki Walker had known about the “affair” and had kept quiet along with everyone else, but she couldn’t stomach seeing Goldschmidt with an education job, and so she went to Jaquiss, who got a Pulitzer prize for the story.

In the resulting chaos, Pernsteiner got the job as permanent chancellor, without a search. The RG called him “the non-chancellor“. Because of the Campbell Church gift letter, Pernsteiner had to pretend that he lived at Treetops, even though OUS was paying him a $25K housing allowance for his own house in Portland. This led to some dubious statements from Bill Gary of Harrang, Long, etc, about Pernsteiner’s plans to return to Treetops, someday:

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Meanwhile Pernsteiner’s kids and their friends lived in the mansion while they were college students at UO. Why not – the state paid for their maid service.

Alas, Pernsteiner’s dream of returning to Treetops didn’t work out. After firing UO President Lariviere, and getting fired himself in turn, he went a little wild, accusing the Lane County Voter’s Registrar of “a specious challenge to my citizenship” for doubting his right to vote in Lane County just because he really lived in Portland (and owned another house in Gearhart):

But that’s all water under the bridge. UO is now back to where we were in 1929, with our own independent Board. Ms Gerlinger would be very, very happy.

So, what to do about TreeTops? We’ve no longer got a state system or a chancellor, and we’ve got another house for the UO president at McMorran House. And, judging from the Oregon DOJ docs from 1980, when the heirs sued to get the house back, it needs a little work:

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And now that Paul Weinhold’s UO Foundation has the title back from OUS, the City of Eugene wants them to start paying taxes:

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OUS to condemn Treetops, give it to Gottfredson, or return it to the heirs

It looks like the OUS Board is finally going to decide what to do with Tree Tops. By condemn they mean seize it under eminent domain, and presumably pay the heirs the market value, which according to Zillow is $1.4M.

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The full docket for the board’s 1/10/2013 meeting, which includes one of Matt Donegan’s special executive sessions as well as approval for work on utility tunnels and Chapman Hall as well as cuts to the state lottery subsidy for Duck sports scholarships, is here.

2/12/2011: Treetops / Pernsteiner scandal
Greg Bolt of the RG has a great story about OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner’s non-use of his state provided mansion in Eugene, Treetops, at 2237 Spring Blvd.

The state pays $50,000 plus in maintenance, plus another $20,000 for travel, plus $280,900 in straight salary. (See this Oregonian report on how Pernsteiner got raises while others got furloughs). Oh yes, we also give him $23,120 for “professional development” expenses. OUS does not have any documentation on how he actually spends that. Unbelievable.

Here is some documentation on how he charges the state for per diem while living at his 2nd house in Portland – for which the state gives him another $26,000 a year, so he can make the mortgage payments. He is using tuition money to pay for his morning croissant and latte.

The Treetops utility bill is $1,000 a month. Pernsteiner was letting his kids’ college student friends live there. Maid service is ~$8,000 a year, paid by the state. Party on.

State Higher Education Board President Paul Kelly is quoted:

“Whether we’re imposing an obligation on him that’s worthwhile, from the board’s point of view or not, that’s something we perhaps ought to take a look at,” Kelly said.

Yes, that sort of money can be a tough obligation to impose on someone, I hear. I’m glad the board doesn’t spend it on professors. Or students, god forbid.

In unrelated news, yesterday Governor Kitzhaber announced his intention to disband the State Higher Education Board. It’ll be tough for Pernsteiner to get another gig like this, without a PhD.

Here are some of the Tree Tops documents:

History:
1938 Campbell Church gift letter on “actual use”
Mrs. Gerlinger’s warning
Historical interest from DOJ file
Interior photos from ~1983

Maintenance and maid service costs:
Some 2004-2008 costs
Some 2008-2010 costs
IRS tax levy documents for maid service and OUS payments
Maid in Oregon housekeeping contracts

“Actual use” and misc:
Pernsteiner employment contracts 2004-2010
Pernsteiner Portland house 
Pernsteiner expense reports and per diem charges (more soon)
Heidelberg junket (more soon)
Treetops use by unrelated individuals (soon)

Voting investigation:
Lane County election supervisor initial inquiry
Pernsteiner’s attorney’s reply.

Lawsuit docs (email me).

Faculty union contract vote, Tu October 8

10/2/2013: Updated announcement with links. 

I apologize but we do not have a budget or dues rate yet. Nothing nefarious, I’m traveling and the OC is busy with the contract and classes etc. Hard to arrange a meeting time to approve everything. I’d post the draft but I’m just one of many involved in this, so that would be presumptuous.

An email sent to bargaining unit members about the 10/8 meeting:

Colleagues,
Next Tuesday’s General Membership Meeting and Contract Ratification Vote are rapidly approaching!  Please mark your calendars and make time to ratify our Tentative Agreement with the UO Administration.
Many of you have written-in asking about the schedule for 10/8.  Here is the agenda for next Tuesday:
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
ERB MEMORIAL UNION BALLROOM, 6PM-9PM
5PM doors open for member check-in–voting begins
6PM–meeting convenes–Chief negotiators present the contract
6:30PM–Q & A with the bargaining team
7:30PM–Finance committee presents local budget and dues proposal to membership
8:00PM–Q & A with the finance committee
9:00PM – Meeting and Voting Conclude
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
The contract ratification vote will continue until 9PM–ballots will be counted at the end of the meeting and results will be announced via email.
The contract summary, the budget, and the dues proposal will be available at the meeting.

Members do not have to stay for the entire meeting.  You may come, vote, and leave at any time during the meeting.  However, we encourage everyone to attend the entire presentation and participate in the discussion.

9/20/2013: Union to use Treetops for contract ratification meeting?

That’s the rumor from the profs playing darts down at the Faculty Club tonight. Hard to think of a more appropriate location, really. Pernsteiner was evicted a few months ago, and if the celebratory goat roast gets out of control – god forbid – the cops will have a hard time figuring out who’s the landlord and enforcing the Social Host Ordinance. Meeting is set for the evening of October 8, details later. 

Rudy Crew scammed Kitzhaber on expenses too

7/16/2013: Nigel Jaquiss and Alex Blum have the scoop in WWeek, based on public records requests, including Crew’s official calendar:

Records obtained by WW under the state’s public records law suggest the governor and the Oregon Education Investment Board left Crew unsupervised in his high-profile job. He spent much of his tenure jetting to conferences and private speaking engagements in faraway locales such as Alaska and the Bahamas, often flying first class.

Similar story from Betsy Hammond in the Oregonian, here. Small change compared to what Matt Donegan let Pernsteiner get away with. The croissants were the least of it – he even hit up the students for his mortgage payments, $26K a year. Plus car, maid service, etc. Speaking of Pernsteiner, I wonder what Treetops cost us last year? Lets find out:

From: UO Matters
Subject: Treetops records
 

Date: July 15, 2013 8:04:33 AM PDT
To: Charles Triplett

Dear Mr. Triplett, this is a public records request for
a) any documents showing expenses for the maintenance or operation of Treetops, including but not limited to landscaping and maid service, from 1/1/2012 to the present, and
b) any documents since 1/1/2013 showing plans for use of Treetops, now that Mr. Pernsteiner has left the building. 

Pernsteiner evicted from Treetops mansion, accuses Lane County Clerk of "specious challenge to my citizenship"

6/8/2013: Sorry, long story. Lane County Clerk Cheryl Betschart, who is in charge of elections and investigating illegal voting, recently sent former OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner a form asking if he really should be voting in Lane County. He sent back this response:

Yup, that’s our former Chancellor, accusing the Lane County Clerk of making a “specious challenge to my citizenship and residency”.

Specious? Really? Pernsteiner has been living at the Treetops Mansion at 2237 Spring Boulevard since 2004, courtesy of Oregon college student’s tuition money. At 6,389 square feet it’s the second largest house in Lane County. Maintenance is $150K or so a year. Our students also spring for Pernsteiner’s maid service.

Except Pernsteiner doesn’t really live there. He just pretends he does. If he doesn’t, the house goes back to the heirs of Campbell Church, a rather remarkable man who made his fortune in the Alaskan gold rush:

The early days of ecotourism – the M.V. Westward had a harpoon the guests could try out on passing whales.

In 1938 the formidable Irene Gerlingher, a UO booster from back when that term had nothing to do with athletics, persuaded the widowed Mr. Church to give Treetops to UO, on the condition that it be used as the residence of the UO President or the Chancellor:

But Pernsteiner’s actually been living at his own house in Portland. In fact his contract was giving him another $23K a year to pay for his mortgage there. Greg Bolt had a great story about it in the RG a few years back. That’s all over now. OUS board president Matt Donegan finally fired the right guy, and OUS has a new interim chancellor, Melody Rose. And as of 7/1/2013 she’s kicking Pernsteiner out of Treetops (and has no intention of getting involved in the scheme to keep it, by pretending to live there herself.)

This is sort of a problem for Mr. Pernsteiner, since back in 2011 when I challenged his claim to be a Lane County resident, he got his lawyer Bill Gary (of Harrang, Gary, Rudnick and Long) to tell Lane County Clerk Cheryl Betschart that:

Pernsteiner most recently voted in Lane County in the May election. Of course it’s illegal to vote in one county when you really live in another. But Ms Betschart said there wasn’t much that she could do except take his word – or his lawyer’s word – about his plan to someday return to live at Treetops. We’ve all got a dream I guess, and it does have a fabulous view from the verandas, a guest house, and a tennis court.

But, somewhere between 2011 and now reality set in. Pernsteiner changed his mind about buying Treetops from the Church heirs, and bought another house for his permanent residence. According to Zillow he did it on 4/27/2012, but what’s a few illegal elections? At 800 square feet it’s a bit smaller than Treetops, but it’s got a little history too, as James Beard’s beach cottage, and when you have to pay for your own maid service you make some sacrifices.

What will become of Treetops? Presumably President Gottfredson will move in, satisfying the gift letter terms, and UO will then let McMorran House, the current presidential residence, be used as the official residence of UO general counsel Randy Geller, the man who really runs UO. Or maybe Athletic Director Rob Mullens? The Duck football coach? Phil Knight?

Pernsteiner is still voting illegally in Lane County?

5/17/2013: It sure looks that way to me, and Lane County Registrar Cheryl Betschart has asked him for an explanation. You remember Pernsteiner, right?

Last time I asked this question Pernsteiner had his lawyer, Bill Gary of HLGR, send this response to the registrar, claiming Pernsteiner intended to return to Lane County and make it his permanent residence:

Sure he plans to return. I like that “we respectfully request that this information be held in confidence” part. Nice try, Mr. Gary. Of course, lying to the Registrar about this sort of thing is a felony:

 

UO’s Treetops mansion searched in graft probe

2/24/13. Whoops, sorry, actually that story is about one of the many villas belonging to the Bongo Ondimba family, who recently gave $20 million in Gabonese money to UO for a greenwashing program. The latest story about Treetops and departing OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner is in the RG, here:

Interim Oregon higher education chancellor Melody Rose says she’s not going to live in the official chancellor’s home in Eugene, an 8,111-square-foot, 1911 mansion in the Fairmount neighborhood known as Treetops. 

That puts the future of the problematic property in doubt. 

The property presents a conundrum for the chancellor’s office because, when a merchant donated the property to the state in 1938, it was with the stipulation that the chancellor or the University of Oregon president live there. The state pays upward of $50,000 annually to maintain the residence, and in some years has spent tens of thousands of dollars more on repairs.

The Audits Division recently decided to let Pernsteiner keep the $23,200 a year in “professional expenses” money he’d been pocketing as an add-on to his $294,000 salary:

On MondayFeb 11, 2013, at 4:22 PM, “BOND, V Dale” wrote: 

[UO Matters]:
After consideration of the information you provided regarding professional expenses included in Chancellor Pernsteiner’s 2009-2012 contract, we have decided not to pursue the questions you raised. The expenses were treated as salary and taxed.

Sincerely,

V. Dale Bond, CPA, CISA, CFEAudit ManagerSecretary of State Audits Division
255 Capitol St. NE, Suite 500
Salem, OR 97310
503-986-2351
v.dale.bond@state.or.us
If you know of or suspect any fraud, waste, or abuse affecting Oregon state funds or resources, call 1.800.336.8218.Professional operators are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Or report online at  http://fraud.oregon.gov. Any person reporting such acts shall remain anonymous (ORS 177.180).

And the Lane County voter registrar decided not to pursue voter fraud charges against him, for now:

From: BETSCHART Cheryl L
Subject: RE: investigation of George Pernsteiner voting residenceDate: February 15, 2013 2:58:14 PM PST
Cc: “BAYES, Brenda J (brenda.j.bayes@state.or.us)”
[UO Matters],
You have requested that Lane County Elections investigate whether George Pernsteiner meets Oregon residency requirements for voting purposes based on the contents of a Separation and Resignation Agreement. I do not find sufficient evidence to challenge his residency at this time. If you have additional documented evidence that shows that Mr. Pernsteiner is no longer in compliance with the residency guidelines outlined in ORS 247.035, please forward those to me for consideration.

Cheryl BetschartLane County Clerk275 W. 10th Avenue, Eugene OR 97401(541) 682-4328 – Fax (541) 682-2303cheryl.betschart@co.lane.or.us

And Diane Dietz has a piece in the RG about the new Chancellor, here.