BREWER, Maine — A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development official said Friday that the agency is reviewing a possible conflict of interest involving a land deal between the Brewer Housing Authority and its former board chairman.
“We are looking into that,” said Kristine Foye, HUD deputy regional director for Region 1, headquartered in Boston.
In addition, the Brewer City Council on Tuesday directed City Manager Steve Bost to send a letter asking Maine Attorney General Janet Mills to investigate whether any laws were broken when the housing authority purchased land last week from Calvin Bubar. Bubar resigned as chairman of the authority’s board of commissioners in July.
Kate Simmons, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said Friday that officials have received Brewer’s letter and are looking into the matter.
“Once we find out more from HUD we’ll be able to determine our course of action,” she said. “We will respond to Brewer. We are in touch with all the parties. We are in touch with the [Brewer city] manager and HUD to determine what we will do next.”
Maine’s Chief Deputy Attorney General Linda Pistner said last week that the office would take a back seat on the issue if HUD began its own investigation. HUD has a lot more resources and has very strict laws when it comes to conflict of interest, she said.
Simmons said the Attorney General’s Office will determine within the “next couple of days” who will take the lead on the investigation.
Bubar sold his property at 258 Chamberlain St. to the housing authority last week for $280,000, more than three times the assessed value of the 4.16-acre 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 while negotiations were under way about the housing authority purchasing his land, which is valued by the city for property taxes at $88,000.
In addition, Bubar still was technically 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 still was officially a board member until the Brewer City Council accepted his resignation on July 14.
Brewer’s letter to the Attorney General’s Office was made “to determine if any statutes of the State of Maine have been broken. Specifically, Title 30-A, [subsection] 4724 as it may pertain to the Brewer Housing Authority,” Bost’s letter to Mills states.
The Maine 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.”
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.
Bubar and 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, and according to the minutes from the Sept. 23, 2008, meeting, “discussed the possibility of selling his property located on Chamberlain Street to the Housing Authority.”
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.