Brewer eyes bylaws in land deal conflict case

Posted Oct. 19, 2009, at 10:09 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — When city officials requested the Brewer Housing Authority’s bylaws on Monday morning, Executive Director Gordon Stitham at first refused, but after talking with his attorney, he hand-delivered a copy to the city.

That copy, however, did not include an amendment that added in 1993 Title 30-A, [subsection] 4724 — the state’s conflict of interest law regarding housing authorities — to the local housing authority’s bylaws.

The conflict of interest clause is a hot-button issue because the housing authority purchased land on Oct. 7 from its former board chairman, which some city officials say is a conflict and a violation of the law.

“What we got [from the housing authority] was a sealed envelope [and] it was all loose-leaf pages” that were not in any order, Assistant City Manager James Smith said Monday afternoon.

After putting the paperwork in order, Smith noticed one of the photocopied pages had a cut-off date and no amendments attached, which made Smith question whether he was given all of the bylaws.

“I just wanted to know what the amendments were,” he said.

After inquiring with Stitham about the missing pages, the city was faxed the September 1993 amendment adding the state statute regarding conflicts of interest, which the housing authority’s five-member board endorsed unanimously. One commissioner, Frank McGuire, sat on the board at that time and still does.

The Maine law 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.”

Stitham’s attorney, Ed Gould of Bangor, said his client did not reject the city’s request for a copy of the bylaws.

“I wouldn’t call it refused,” he said. “Gordon just wanted to make sure they went through my office.”

Bylaws are public records, and the state’s laws on conflict of interest would cover the Brewer Housing Authority, “whether they were included [in their bylaws] or not,” Gould said.

When asked why the original copy of the bylaws provided to the city by his client omitted the September 1993 amendment, Gould said, “I can’t comment on that.”

“Remarkable,” is how City Manager Steve Bost described the omission by Stitham.

The city also has requested to listen to recordings of the commissioners’ meetings, which also are public.

“Gordan will be back on Wednesday, and [those tapes] will be available anytime thereafter,” Gould said.

Stitham is at a conference and not available, staffers at the housing authority said Monday afternoon. When asked to see a copy of the housing authority’s bylaws, the staffers referred the Bangor Daily News to the city.

Officials from both the Maine Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are reviewing the land sale to see whether any laws were broken.

Kate Simmons, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said Friday that the Attorney General’s Office would determine sometime this week whether the attorney general or HUD would take the lead on the investigation.

The Brewer City Council last week directed Bost to formally request that the attorney general investigate whether any laws were broken when the housing authority purchased land earlier this month from Calvin Bubar.

Bubar sold his property at 258 Chamberlain St. to the housing authority 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.

Bubar, his attorney, Joseph Ferris, who also is a City Council member and deputy mayor, and Stitham 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 housing authority board of commissioners. In January 2008 he was made chairman of the board, 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.

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