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The Housing Authority’s commissioner liaison, Commissioner Debra Birkby, had a list of what she called irregularities and concerns that she had noted over the two years she has sat on the board. The Clatsop County Board minutes do not reflect that Commissioner Birkby ever reported her concerns to the board during a public meeting. When the Board Chairperson, Commissioner Huhtala, was asked how concerns regarding the Housing Authority were brought to the Board’s attention and suddenly placed on its agenda, since nothing in the board’s previous minutes reflected a concern with the Housing Authority’s conduct, Huhtala said he and Commissioner Birkby, “Saw a letter in the possession of Scott Somer’s (Clatsop County manager).” When asked how Somers obtained the letter, Huhtala paused, then nodded, “I believe from (Housing Authority Commissioner) Robert Stang.”
Huhtala said the letter was so startling, in that it contained information that a child was was being abused, that his first inclination was to immediately contact the police, even though the letter was written back in 2009 and had been brought to the attention of the Board back then. Instead, he, Birkby and Somers decided that an emergency executive session of the Board was needed to consult with legal council as to what to do about the letter. Huhtala contends that it was at the executive session that legal council told the Board what its options were in dealing with the Housing Authority. At the conclusion of the executive session Huhtala said the board did not meet again in public to announce or propose any action be taken on what was learned at the executive session. Instead, Huhtala said, “I take it on myself. I was the one that put this on the agenda for the next meeting on my own, I was the one that directed staff to do what needed to be done, for, for, research and to make recommendations.” When asked why it wasn’t done in the public eye, through a recommendation after executive session, Huhtala replied, “You don’t think two days worth of discussion was in the public eye? All that we heard tonight and November 28th was in the public eye.”
At the beginning of the Wednesday night discussion on the Housing Authority Chair Huhtala made a statement contending that he had heard that he might have a conflict of interest in making a decision regarding the Housing Authority. Huhtala did not state exactly what that conflict might be but stated that he had had “previous business dealings” with Housing Authority Commissioner Robert Stang, who had brought the concerning letter to Manager Somers’ attention. According to previous Board meeting minutes Huhtala, has recused himself from discussing the brokering of the Darigold Building deal because of a conflict of interest. The deal was brokered by NoLove, NoFish, a development consulting firm in which Huhtala and Stang are both listed as “team members” along with two other people. As President and co-founder of the Columbia River Business Alliance (CRBA) Stang engaged Commissioner Huhtala as CRBA’s first Executive Director in November, 2008 until June of 2010, after Huhtala was elected to the Board of County Commissioners.
After mentioning that he had previous business dealings with Stang, Huhtala said he did not consider that a conflict of interest and would not recuse himself from discussion or to vote on the matter. He asked other commissioners if they had a conflict and none of them said they did. Commissioner Roberts spoke, briefly, stating that the letter that was being discussed as well as further information regarding the rental property management firm, Investment Property Management (IPM) had been discussed in detail in 2009 and while the minutes may not directly reflect discussions the addendum material supplied in the agenda packets for 2009 had included the letter that the Commissioners were concerned had never been discussed in public. Commissioner Birkby then spoke for approximately fifteen to twenty minutes. She started off saying she took exception to remarks that she had anything against the Housing Authority. She said since she has been its liaison she has spoken for the Housing Authority and been its advocate. Birkby continued, saying there were concerns she had about some irregularities and she had a list of things that have bothered her over the last two years. She said, while none of the items on their own were alarming, put together they showed a pattern she found disturbing. As she read down the list it appeared she had a hard time keeping track of where she was on the document. At one point she said, “Oh, that’s the end of that sentence.”
The Board then asked for comments from legal counsel that the Housing Authority had obtained since they had been told that the County’s legal counsel could not assist them and the Board on this same matter. The Housing Authority’s attorney was told he had about five minutes “or so” to state the Housing Authority’s side of the concerns. The attorney had with him a four inch thick notebook of approximately 200 plus pages that he said he could not fairly represent in a five minute period. Huhtala allowed he might need 10 minutes, but if he could give the first five and then let public comment and then give the remainder it might proceed better. The lawyer countered that, no, his presentation being broken up would not be conducive. Huhtala determined the audience should have the opportunity to speak, first, with the attorney following.
After audience members gave their opinions and testimony, Chair Huhtala allowed the Housing Authority’s attorney to speak again. When the speaking timer went off he allowed the attorney to continue talking, however, he would not refer to the material as the attorney directed. Huhtala then asked the attorney to “wrap it up”. At the conclusion of the attorney’s time, with no further consultation, Commissioner Scott Lee moved that the Board transfer the Housing Authority’s powers and duties to itself and Commissioner Birkby seconded the motion. Chair Huhtala asked if all were in favor but was interrupted when one of the board members asked for the vote to be cast by each commissioner. Commissioners Birkby, Rohne, Lee and Huhtala all cast “aye” votes with Commissioner Roberts voting “nay”. The Housing Authority members were meeting with their attorney after the meeting to construct a response to the Board of Commissioner’s vote.