BREWER, Maine — Three of five city councilors have placed their names on an order that asks the Maine Attorney General’s Office to investigate a land purchase involving the Brewer Housing Authority and a former board chairman.
The resolve has been placed on Tuesday’s Brewer City Council agenda and was sponsored by Councilors Manley DeBeck, Larry Doughty and Gail Kelly.
The housing authority on Tuesday purchased a 4.16-acre parcel at 258 Chamberlain St. for $280,000 from Calvin Bubar, who resigned from its board in July. The land’s purchase price is more than three times the assessed value of the property and more than twice what Bubar paid for it in 2007.
Records of meetings show Bubar was chairman of the housing authority’s board of commissioners while the authority was negotiating to buy his land, which is assessed by the city for property taxes at $88,000.
“I think the AG needs to look at it,” Kelly said Thursday. “There are too many people finger-pointing. It needs to pass the straight-face test.”
Bubar; his attorney, Joseph Ferris, who also is a City Council member and deputy mayor; and Gordon Stitham, the Brewer Housing Authority executive director, all have stressed several times this week that there is no conflict of interest.
Ferris said his client “absolutely did not participate in any of the discussions” about the land purchase. He said the housing authority board, without Bubar, made the decisions.
The wording of Brewer’s council order was not complete Thursday, but the agenda placeholder reads: “Order, request that the Maine Attorney General’s Office initiate an investigation into a recent purchase of land by the Brewer Housing Authority.”
Chief Deputy Attorney General Linda Pistner said Thursday that if the AG’s office got a request from Brewer to look into the matter, they “would take a look at it and talk internally about whether there is an issue,” she said.
Pistner added, however, that the office would take a back seat on the issue if U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials began their own investigation. Because the housing authority is partially funded by HUD, the federal agency has some oversight.
“Sometimes there are conflicts on the part of local advisers, and we try to assist as we can,” Pistner said.
City councilors, concerned about a possible conflict of interest, held an executive session on Oct. 1 to discuss the matter, even though the council has no official jurisdiction over the housing authority.
“We really don’t get involved with their budget or decisions, but that doesn’t mean we’re not sensitive to what they’re doing,” Mayor Arthur “Archie” Verow said Monday.
Bubar and his wife, Nancy, purchased the Chamberlain Street property in September 2007 for $120,000, and he was appointed to the housing authority board about a month later. He was made chairman in January 2008.
Bubar resigned from the board on July 8 of this year, the day before a purchase and sale agreement was signed for his property. City councilors, however, didn’t accept his resignation and make it official until July 14.
Bubar said on Wednesday, during a meeting at the Bangor Daily News, that he resigned to avoid a conflict of interest.
“I didn’t want to cause any problems,” he said.
Maine’s conflict of interest law regarding housing authorities 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 responsibility, 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.
Any violation of the conflict of interest law is a Class E crime, which is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Stitham said Tuesday that the housing authority “has no comment” about the sale.
“Eventually, Penquis CAP and Brewer Housing Authority will have a press release about what we’re doing,” he said. “I feel that once you get the notice from Penquis CAP and Brewer Housing Authority a lot of this will be cleared up, but at this point Brewer Housing Authority is not making any comment.”
As of Thursday, no release had been issued.
The housing authority has teamed with Penquis and plans to build a $6 million, 32-unit elderly housing complex on the land. 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. A clause in the agreement also stipulates that if Penquis is unable to develop the project in two years, Penquis will purchase the land from the housing authority for the full purchase price.
Bangor resident Dan Tremble, who sits on the Penquis board, said Thursday that during discussions about the project he doesn’t remember being told that Bubar was a member of the Brewer Housing Authority’s board of commissioners. He also said the wording of the conflict of interest law is pretty clear that commissioners of housing authorities cannot have financial dealings with their agencies.
“It says two years,” Tremble said.
He also asked why Brewer councilors met in executive session to discuss the matter, when they have no authority over the housing organization.
Kelly, who said the city has a good working relationship with Penquis and the local housing authority, said she’s only interested in getting to the bottom of the possible conflict as soon as possible.
“If this was a fair deal, there is nothing to hide,” she said. There are legal issues, and “I’m not an attorney, so let’s have an attorney look at it. If everybody is innocent and everything is above board, let’s get it out there so we can go on with the business of the city.”