BREWER, Maine — Calvin Bubar, who was chairman of the Brewer Housing Authority’s board until July and who sold property he owned to the agency this week, says — despite what city councilors are saying — there is no conflict of interest.
“People who know me know I didn’t do [anything inappropriate] and people who don’t know me think the worst,” he said during a Wednesday meeting at the Bangor Daily News.
The housing authority purchased his 4.16-acre parcel on Chamberlain Street on Tuesday for $280,000, which is more than three times the assessed value of the land and more than twice what Bubar paid for it in 2007, according to city records.
The housing authority has teamed with Penquis, formerly Penquis CAP, in hopes of building a $6 million, 32-unit elderly housing complex on the land.
City staff found out about the project earlier this year after Penquis approached them about tax increment financing for the project, but only learned that Bubar was the seller late last week, City Councilor Gail Kelly said. The council, concerned about a possible conflict of interest, held an emergency executive session on the issue Thursday, Oct. 1, but had no authority to stop the sale.
As chairman of the housing authority board, Bubar “had too much knowledge” about the authority’s coffers and financing, Kelly said.
“You can’t profit from your position,” she said. “And he was still a member of that board when” the purchase and sale agreement was signed for the property in mid-July.
When people have questioned him this week about the possible conflict of interest, Bubar said on Wednesday, that, “I just kind of laughed. All this inside information [is available to] anyone who attends their meetings. The info is there.”
Maine laws states: “No employee or commissioner of any authority may, within two years of that service … voluntarily acquire any interest, direct or indirect, in any contract, project or property included or planned to be included in any project of that housing authority over which the employee or commissioner has exercised re-sponsibility, control or decisions during tenure with the authority.”
“After reading that, you can’t tell me there isn’t a conflict of interest,” City Councilor Manley DeBeck said Wednesday.
Mayor Arthur “Archie” Verow and City Councilor Larry Doughty have said they also see a conflict. However, City Councilor and Deputy Mayor Joseph Ferris, who is also Bubar’s attorney, has said his client did nothing wrong.
Bubar, along with his wife Nancy, purchased the Chamberlain Street land for $120,000 in mid-September 2007, and a few weeks later held an informal hearing with the Brewer Planning Board to discuss and get feedback about the possibility of creating a housing project for people over the age of 55 on the parcel.
Two weeks later, on Oct. 15, 2007, Bubar was appointed to the housing authority’s board. In January 2008 he was made chairman.
The purchase and sale agreement for the property was signed on July 9, the day after Bubar, who operates a real estate business and also is a Brewer School Committee member, hand delivered his resignation letter to the city. He was still officially a board member until the Brewer City Council accepted his resignation on July 14.
Gordon Stitham, Brewer Housing Authority executive director, said he contacted officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and was told that as long as “Cal was not part of the vote” there was no conflict.
HUD’s Bangor field office director is out of the office for a few days, and Beverly Taylor, a HUD spokeswoman based in Boston, said on Wednesday that she did not have enough information to respond to questions.
“Without further research, we cannot comment at this time,” she said.
Bubar said he resigned from the board in an attempt to avoid any problems.
“I didn’t want to cause any problems for the housing authority,” he said, adding that the elderly housing project is “needed, desperately needed” and “a terrific deal for Brewer Housing Authority.”
Under its agreement with Penquis, the housing authority would purchase the land and Penquis would build the units and then hand over the keys to the housing authority to run it, Bubar said.
And if, for some reason, Penquis is unable to develop the project, the agency has agreed to purchase the land from the housing authority for the full purchase price, he said.
“You can’t beat it,” Bubar said.
Bubar said he feels bad that his attorney and the housing authority “got dragged into this.”
When asked about the $160,000 profit that he made on the land sale, Bubar commented that, “We did some work on it, and I’d like to get the money I put into it, and double my money.”
According to city records, the property sold at 258 Chamberlain St. is valued at $88,000.
“This is not really residential property — this is commercial property,” Bubar said, adding that the commercial designation raises its value.
Before anyone can construct a multiunit development on the Chamberlain Street parcel, however, the zoning will need to be changed from medium-density residential to high-density residential, which will require approval by the planning board and the City Council.
City Planner Linda Johns said that as of Wednesday, no one has approached the city about making a zoning change for the property in question.
The developer, in this case Penquis, will probably approach the planning board with an application for the zoning change and site plan approval at the same time, Johns said.
“If the planning board approved [the site plan], it would be contingent on City Council approval” of the zoning change, she said.
Planning board members Allen Campbell and Albert Gibson, who both sit on the housing authority’s board, may have to recuse themselves from the vote, Johns said.
“It’s not a problem for us,” she said. “Our planning board consists of seven members and two associate” members.
Ferris probably would have to excuse himself from the City Council vote on the zoning change, as well.
The one thing Bubar said he wants to stress is that he had no information about the housing authority that wasn’t public.
“If I did something wrong I would have been covering and ducking,” he said. “It’s not like the $280,000 is going to make me or break me.”
He later said, “People that know the least, talk the most.”