Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Astoria City Councilor Drew Herzig was sitting on both sides of the table in discussions over the City's Armory deal. Nobody knew about his dual role at the time the city council was holding it's most sensitive talks about the potential transaction. Herzig tells KAST news he didn't see the conflict of interest initially and claims he was not a board member of the Friends Of The Armory group as he joined negotiations on their behalf

 

The city of Astoria is in the process of negotiating terms for a complex property deal involving the sale of the Astoria Armory building.  The 1940's structure and the undeveloped lot to the immediate north on Duane street are owned by the Columbia River Maritime Museum and the Armory has been used as an archive storage for several years. The city depends on the empty lot to provide parking for the Coast Guard crews at the 17th street dock.  The Museum board has moved forward on a plan to buy the former Builders Supply buildings to create a new storage facility and research library and sell the Armory properties.

The city council has held multiple executive session discussions involving the intimate details of the deal they are working on to buy the property in partnership with local financial institution Craft 3.  Part of that deal is an agreement that Craft 3 will then market the Armory and the city would retain ownership of the empty lot next door for parking requirements in their lease with Coast Guard for the 17th street dock.  What the city didn't know is that while those closed door sessions were going on City Councilor Drew Herzig was in the running to serve on the board of a local group that has gained first right to buy the Armory building.  Herzig was privy to the council discussions before the deal was made public.  Some aspects of the deal are still under executive seal.  

Beyond that, when it came time for the Friends of the Armory to sit down with the city community development department to negotiate through a process with Craft 3,  councilor Herzig  came to that meeting and did most of the talking on behalf of the Friends group.  He objected to the requirement that the Friends present a business plan within a specified time period to retain their first right of refusal.   Community Development Director Brett Estes said that he didn't know Herzig was a member of the friends board and appearently neither did anyone else on the city side of the table. Herzig claims he was not officially a member of the board at that time but was speaking on behalf of the friends and not the city. Herzig told KAST news that the issue of conflict of interest came up at that time and he was advised that he should seek legal advice on the matter.  Herzig said that he based his inital impression on the fact that City Manager Paul Benoit also serves on the board of Craft 3 and in declaring that connection in open session Benoit had said there was sufficent separation to negate an actual conflict. Benoit does not speak for Craft 3, nor is he representing the interests of that organization directly in these negotiations.   Herzig said he felt his involvement as both a City Councilor and a potential Friends of the Armory board member would be a similar situation.

When Mayor Van Dusen found out about Herzig's involvement, he contacted Councilor Herzig to ask him to resign from the Friends board.  At first, the Mayor said,  Herzig was not willing to do so and later told the Mayor in an email dated October 11th that the city attorney would be consulted to determine if he (herzig) had an actual conflict of interest.  Mayor Van Dusen tried to make the point that regardless of actual conflict it simply looks bad for a City Council member to be sitting on both sides of the table in a quarter million dollar deal.

Two days later Herzig quietly reported that he had resigned from the Friends of the Armory Board of Directors.   There was no mention of this matter at the October 21 City Council meeting.  Herzig has not declared a conflict, or possible conflict of interest nor did he excuse himself from executive session discussion while working on behalf of the Friends of the Armory

Since being elected in a close race to unseat former City Councilor Peter Roscoe, Herzig has made it a point at every city council meeting to stress the importance of honesty, open discussion, public involvement, and government transparency.  

There was no open declaration of conflict of interest or acknowledgment of his involvement as principal member of the Friends group while acting as a city councilor in executive session discussions.

 

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