The Clatsop County commissioners’ move to assume control of the Clatsop County Housing Authority will wait.

The commissioners voted 4-1 Wednesday night to postpone a decision until the next county board meeting Dec. 12. Chairman Peter Huhtala cast the opposing vote.

The discussion ended with a consensus that more information was needed. It became clear to most commissioners that additional analysis of the housing authority meeting minutes, and a closer look at state procurement laws, would benefit the inquiry.

An initial request from the housing authority’s attorney to postpone the decision for 30 days did not seem feasible to most board members.

Wednesday night’s encounter with the Housing Authority was set in motion after the discovery of letters provided by CCHA board member Robert Stang which indicated a discrepancy with Income Property Management, a company that managed the authority’s Tilikum and Owens-Adair Apartments until 2009.

It was also brought about by a potential contract irregularity that County Manager Scott Somers discovered during a CCHA board meeting in September.

Letters sent in 2009 from IPM’s lawyer to Kathy Lucas, executive director of the housing authority, show that a tenant had acted inappropriately at Tilikum Apartments and that the company wished to remove the occupant. The company wanted to subsequently terminate its contract because of not being allowed to follow through and perform its duty.

When asked why IPM was not allowed to evict the tenant, David Phillips, chairman of the CCHA board in 2009, responded that there were more restrictions in the process because it is low-income housing.

“There’s a very specific due process that must occur before you remove somebody from this housing,” said Phillips.

A statement on behalf of the CCHA was read and submitted by current board member David Smith. “The housing authority is contractually obligated to provide all tenants with a mandated grievance process governing the housing authority tenant eviction process,” he read.

There was some confusion as to whether all CCHA board members knew about IPM’s resignation in 2009 and whether the letters were disseminated. Phillips did not recall the specific letter sent to Ken Easom, the former chairman of the CCHA board, regarding the incident with the tenant. Easom was not a part of the board during the time the letter was sent, Phillips said.

Jeff Reingold, the president and founder of IPM, answered questions from the county board.

Commissioners Patricia Roberts and Huhtala both asked whether the CCHA board knew why the company terminated its contract.

Reingold remembered speaking with the executive director about the issue.

“I’m quite sure I spoke with Kathy Lucas about this,” he said. “We had a back and forth about this specific issue referenced in the letter.”

But he did not know to what extent the board knew.

The questions about procurement and contract bidding was in response to discovering that Executive Director Lucas’ cousin, once removed, seemed to be the only bidder on a CCHA project. The possible problem with that would be if the contract were for a “public improvement contract,” according to Christopher Crean, county counsel.

The amount for the contract was $145,000 with the company AIRRUN Construction. The project entailed working on the Hyak building in Seaside, which the CCHA recently acquired. According to the counsel, Oregon law states that anything over $100,000 and designated “public improvement” is subject to a competitive bidding process.

The question became what kind of project was the contract for: renovation, painting or maintenance. There was some uncertainty as to what the Hyak project entailed, but Commissioner Debra Birkby believed it was to address lead paint.

But it was never fully clear what the project was and if laws had in fact been broken.

The CCHA statement read by Smith addressed procurement, indicating that the housing authority adopted a Procurement Policy in April 2010 and that the code of conduct states immediate family would be barred. “The only restrictions regarding dealing with family as it relates to housing authority procurement is if it involves immediate family members.”

After hearing from Smith, Commissioner Roberts made a motion that the board postpone decision making for 30 days, as the authority requested. None of the other members seconded the motion.

“I think they deserve it,” Roberts said. “They’ve worked extremely hard.”

Stang, a housing authority board member, also spoke. He discovered the 2009 letters from IPM when inquiring why the CCHA had begun doing in-house management. “It didn’t seem financially viable for the housing authority to be operating its own management,” he said.

He said he was told that the CCHA could save $50,000 to 75,000 a year with in-house management, but Stang said he couldn’t find proof of that. “No one could give it to me,” he said.

Roberts wondered earlier whether fallout with IPM was already coming before disagreement over evicting a tenant. Phillips had earlier stated the CCHA was capable of managing the properties themselves.

“Our staff were qualified to do the management themselves,” he said. “The cost of contracting out these services is quite high.” He pointed out that they’ve had a “clean bill of health” for managing the properties when inspected by federal regulators.

Stang felt the board should take over the CCHA to fix the encountered problems. “I thoroughly support your motion to take this back,” he said.

An hour and a half had passed, but Commissioner Scott Lee stated that more time could only help in making the important decision of whether to transfer the authority’s power. Lee then made a motion, which Roberts seconded, suggesting the board postpone the decision to the next county meeting so members could research more.

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