BREWER, Maine — A letter asking Maine Attorney General Janet Mills to investigate whether any laws were broken last week when the Brewer Housing Authority purchased land from its former board chairman was sent on Wednesday by registered mail.
Brewer City Council, at its regular meeting on Tuesday, directed City Manager Steve Bost to immediately request the AG’s Office to initiate an investigation into the matter.
The formal request was made “to determine if any statutes of the State of Maine have been broken,” Bost’s letter to Mills states. “Specifically, Title 30-A, [subsection] 4724 as it may pertain to the Brewer Housing Authority.”
The referenced 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.”
Calvin Bubar, who resigned as chairman of the housing authority’s board of commissioners in July, sold his property at 258 Chamberlain St. to the agency last week for $280,000.
Records of meetings show Bubar was chairman of the housing authority’s board while negotiations were under way about the housing authority purchasing his land, which is valued by the city for property taxes at $88,000. The amount Brewer Housing Authority paid for the land is more than three times the assessed value of the 4.16-acre property and more than twice what Bubar paid for it in 2007.
In addition, Bubar was still on the board when the purchase and sale agreement was signed on July 9. He had hand delivered his resignation letter to the city the day before, but was still officially a board member until the Brewer City Council accepted his resignation on July 14.
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 said that Bubar did not participate in board discussions about the land purchase and that there is no conflict of interest.
On page 10 of the Sept. 23, 2008, meeting minutes it states, “Chairman Bubar discussed the possibility of selling his property located on Chamberlain Street to the Housing Authority.” And according to minutes from the Feb. 24, 2009, meeting, “a lengthy discussion [was held] concerning the financial responsibility, the property at 258 Chamberlain St., and the six acres [that] the Brewer Housing Authority owns.” At that meeting, “Chairman Bubar ask[ed] if we would continue with the agreement” to pursue the project.
Asked why the minutes differed from his statement, Stitham said Penquis officials attended the February meeting, and Bubar was there for the presentation, but “as far as buying that land, he was not a part of that. The whole thing has been blown way out of proportion.”
The housing authority has teamed with Penquis and plans to build a $6 million, 32-unit elderly housing complex on the land.
Bubar, along with his wife, Nancy, purchased the Chamberlain Street land for $120,000 in mid-September 2007, and one month later he was appointed to the board of commissioners. In January 2008 he was made chairman.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Linda Pistner said last week that if the AG’s office got a request from Brewer they would look into the matter. However, she added that the office would take a back seat on the issue if U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials began its own investigation. Because the housing authority is partially funded by HUD, the federal agency has some oversight.
Calls to Kristine Foye, HUD deputy regional director, were not returned on Wednesday.
Bost’s letter to Mills states that city officials first learned about the land sale earlier this year when “approached by Penquis and Brewer Housing Authority to provide tax increment financing and designate our future Community Development Block Grant funds for an elderly housing project.
“City staff, in the process of due diligence on the request, determined the land being purchased by the Housing Authority was owned by their recent Chairman of the Board and that the transaction would likely constitute a conflict of interest,” the letter states.
Any violation of the state’s conflict of interest law is a Class E crime, which is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.