Brewer council to unveil land probe findings

Posted May 03, 2010, at 8:17 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — The Portland attorney hired to investigate whether anything shady happened when Brewer Housing Authority purchased land from Calvin Bubar, who resigned as board chairman two months before the sale was complete, is ready to present his findings.

James Cohen of the Portland law firm Verrill Dana will present the results of his six-month investigation to the City Council at a special meeting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

“It should be an interesting meeting,” Councilor Larry Doughty said Monday.

The council hired Cohen to see whether any laws — particularly the state’s conflict of interest law — were broken when the housing authority purchased 258 Chamberlain St. from Bubar and his wife on Oct. 7, 2009.

Bubar served as chairman of the housing authority board until he submitted his resignation on July 9, 2009, the day before the purchase and sale agreement for his property was signed. He technically was still on the board until the Brewer City Council accepted his resignation on July 14.

Bubar was chairman while discussions about purchasing his property were ongoing, according to the board’s meeting minutes. He did not sign the purchase and sales agreement paperwork as a board member, but he was still officially on the board when it was signed.

Brewer city leaders became concerned there was a possible conflict of interest in early October after learning that the housing authority planned to pay Bubar $280,000 for his 4.16-acre Chamberlain Street parcel that is valued by the city for property taxes at $88,000.

City councilors held an executive session Oct. 1 to discuss the matter and at their Oct. 13 meeting voted to ask the state Attorney General’s Office to review the case.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials decided simultaneously to review the housing authority’s books to see whether federal funds were used when the authority bought Bubar’s land.

HUD’s November review revealed no federal conflict of interest violation, but it did find that the price paid was questionable and that state laws probably were violated.

“The BHA … in purchasing the questionably priced parcel of land from the standing active Chairman of its Board of Commissioners, appears to have acted in violation of BHA policies as well as state law,” the Nov. 16 report from HUD states. “We expect the State of Maine will pursue this further.”

Officials from the Maine Attorney General’s office declined to investigate the matter, however, saying that any possible law violation did not rise to the level of crime the agency typically investigates.

Officials from that office did say they “would be happy” to review the results of an independent investigation. After hearing that, city councilors endorsed hiring Cohen.

Whether the results of Cohen’s investigation will be provided to the Attorney General’s Office for review will depend on what it states, City Manager Steve Bost said Monday.

“That [decision] will be up to the council,” he said.

The Maine conflict of interest 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.”

Bubar’s attorney for the land transaction was City Councilor Joseph Ferris, who has said all along that his client did nothing dishonest.

“I maintain that Cal did nothing wrong,” he said Monday.

The investigation has placed a planned senior housing project for the lot, which requires a zoning change only the City Council can make, on hold. Councilors tabled the zoning request during their January meeting and continued it for a fourth time at the April 6 meeting, because a majority of the panel wanted the investigation finished before the project moves forward.

Councilor Doughty is one who opposed moving forward with the project without the report.

“It’s been six months,” he said. “I didn’t dream it would take so long. I’m glad it’s finally getting behind us.”

The housing authority, in partnership with the social services agency Penquis of Bangor, plans to build a $5.12 million, 32-unit elderly housing project on the land. The housing authority would own the land and operate the facility, which would be built by Penquis.

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