Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) voted 4-1 in favor of dis-banding the Clatsop County Housing Auhtority Board (CCHA) and taking those powers to themselves Wednesday evening.  A county news release states:

The board acted in response to concerns about whether the CCHA board properly followed state public meetings requirements in handling the agency's business, in particular that subcommittees of the board were given power to deliberate over contracts and other items outside of properly noticed public meetings.  The housing authority manages several low-income housing facilities around the county, including Owens-Adair in Astoria, Tilikum and Wapiti in Warrenton, and Clatsop Shores in Seaside, and makes housing grants available to a number of local social service organizations. Board Chair Peter Huhtala said the commissioners' decision to appoint themselves as the CCHA governing body will not result in any changes to the agency's staff or facilities. "We are just replacing one board with another," he said.  The board scheduled a special meeting for Friday, Dec. 14 at 9 a.m. at the Judge Guy Boyington Building, 857 Commercial St., Astoria to meet as the housing authority board.


The release fails to mention the incident that brought this matter to the attention of the BOCC.  Reportedly, A member of the housing authority board identified as developer Robert Stang brought a 2009 letter from property management firm IPM to the attention of County Manager Scott Sommers.  In the letter the firm gives it's notice to the CCHA of it's intent to end it's contract managing CCHA properties over matter where the CCHA board refused to allow the company to evict a women who was under investigation for possible child abuse.  The state investigation eventually found the accusations groundless and closed the case according to a report from the CCHA board made available to the BOCC. Commssioner Roberts pointed out that the BOCC had discussed the letter from IPM in 2009.   When the CCHA board was told that the county attorney could not represent them before the BOCC in the matter of possible dissolution that board hired an attorney to represent them and requested records from the county to show what the CCHA board believed might show a conflict of interest in the BOCC taking over the low income housing agency.  The release also fails to mention that while there is a connection between BOCC chair Peter Huhtala and Robert Stang in that Huhtala once worked for Stang and they have been involved in business dealings, most notably the acquisition of county property by the Coast Family Heath Clinic, Huhtala claimed no conflict of interest in taking over control of the properties owned by CCHA.  At the meeting Wednesday Commissioner Debra Birkby recited a litany of issues she observed as a liaison for the county board to the housing authority board over a two year period which she had not brought to public discussion previously.  The attorney for CCHA board attempted to answer those issues but was given little time in which t respond to the lengthy list brought forward by Birkby.  Public testimony regarding the issue was largely favorable to the CCHA board.  At a special meeting of the CCHA board last week Stang objected to the process by which the CCHA board hired legal representation because he said the board had not voted to retain the firm yet and the lawyer was already at the meeting table as discussion regarding the hiring decision was taking place.  It was explained that apparently the CHA finance committee had been involved in the decision and had hired a firm but at the last minute they had to change lawyers when the original choice was not available in time to meet the deadline to respond to the county. Stang was strongly argumentative through the meeting and was called out of order by the chair on several occasions.  The CCHA board, through their attorney specifically requested records of communications between Stang and members of he BOCC and county staff.  It is not known if the county responded to those requests but Commissioner Birkby told the CCHA board at that meeting that much of what they were requesting would probably come under client attorney privilege and be excepted from public record requests.

This is the second time the BOCC has dismissed an entire board. The first was the Clatsop County Planning Commmission shortly after the new commissioners took office.

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