The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Council's lot purchase remains a hot issue

 

Rick Nelson

It was standing room only for the public when the Cathlamet Town Council convened Monday for its monthly meeting. Citizens were there to discuss a controversial purchase of property.

The battle over the Town of Cathlamet's purchase of a vacant lot on Main Street isn't over yet.

The town council voted 3-2 to buy the lot in quick action after an executive session at the June meeting. Following that meeting, a group of citizens angered by the vote collected over 100 signatures on a petition asking the council to rescind the decision.

The citizens planned to present the petition at the council's monthly meeting on Monday, but they learned earlier that day that the sale had closed, and the town owned the lot.

A 50-minute give and take public comment session at the end of Monday's meeting ended with Mayor Dale Jacobson using the gavel to adjourn as voices rose to shouts.

Afterwards, opponents of the lot purchase said they would consider filing recall petitions against Jacobson and perhaps Council Member Sue Cameron.

The council usually takes public comment at the beginning of their meetings, but Jacobson put it at the end of the session so that the council could address other business on the agenda.

That business included sending an appeal of sewer rate assessment by Steve and Paige Lake to a committee for a recommendation; passage for the first of three readings of an ordinance to lower the speed limit on SR 4 to 45 mph in the town limits, and voting 3-2 to amend the ordinance governing the town planning commission to reduce it from five to three members. Voting in favor were Ryan Smith, Tanya Waller and Laurel Waller, and Sue Cameron and Jean Burnham opposed, saying they preferred the larger number for greater diversity.

After a bit more discussion and reports, Jacobson read a statement outlining his view of the lot purchase process.

The process started in March, he said, and the issue was moved from open session to executive session for consideration of real estate purchase, which can be kept secret to avoid influencing negotiations.

He affirmed the town's purchase price, $69,000, which was under the price which the seller paid for the property, $75,000. A real estate appraiser had valued the land at $40,000, but that appraiser wasn't certified for appraising commercial property, he said.

So the council moved to purchase at the $68,000 prices.

"We were afraid we were going to lose the property, he said. "We have done due diligence."

As for converting the lot to green space, Jacobson said that was mentioned in a 2006 economic development plan.

The lot was once the site of a service station with a leaking underground tank, and the Department of Ecology has said clean up efforts are satisfactory with no further remedial action was needed.

Robert Stowe, who resigned as chair of the town planning commission last month in protest of the purchase, summarized many of the citizens' complaints.

Over a four month period, there was no public discussion of the plans and expenditure, and there was no opportunity for public input. Government derives its power from the people, and officials hold a public trust that obligates them to honesty and integrity in fulfilling their responsibilities.

"Paramount in that trust is the principle that public office, whether elected or appointed, may not be used for personal gain or private advantage," he said.

He finished by stating that council members would be personally liable for civil penalties if it is shown they've violated ethics laws.

"Dale Jacobson," he said, addressing the mayor, "you pushed this land acquisition on the council; you had funds paid out before the council had an opportunity to vote on it, and you expedited the purchase in an effort to bypass any community involvement. Ryan Smith, Sue Cameron and Jean Burnham, you voted yes. Your actions are under scrutiny."

He closed by urging the council to reconsider the action. "It's not too late because the council hasn't voted on the contract that you're supposed to," he said.

Steve Lake asked Council Member Cameron why she hadn't recused herself because the seller is her best friend.

"That question will be addressed when we're through with this," Jacobson said.

"This whole situation I find disgusting," said Bill Wainright, a town planning commissioner. "It's the process."

The closing process was hurried to be completed before the Monday meeting, he said.

"To me, it's scheming; it's indifference; it's abuse of our tax dollars, and it's abuse and indifference by the mayor and the council by their vote of who they represent," he said. "The three that voted yes, I feel sorry for you, for you've been played.

"Mayor, you've proven you can't be trusted; I think you need to resign. You've lost the trust of the community."

In her comments, Paige Lake pointed out that the mayor and council work for the citizens. A petition asking for reconsideration of the purchase got 173 signatures, 102 from town residents.

Among other comments that followed, former Mayor George Weherfritz commented that he was concerned with the process, that it would undermine other efforts in the community. Years ago, the town bought a house and property behind the library for a parking lot; it was subsequently learned that the site is too wet to be feasible for parking; and at the other end of Main Street is a parking lot bought to become green space.

"It's backwards," he said.

He suggested the council form a committee to identify unused town owned parcels and see if they could be sold.

Richard Erickson, former economic development director, said that in the development of the plan which Jacobson referenced, there were discussions about retail space on that property and it was never designed to be taken off the tax rolls and a park put there.

From there, the discussion started to move into back and forth accusations.

Jacobson said he wanted to stop the comment period and respond to the questions people had raised. The town has protected itself with a title report, he said.

Cameron responded to comments about a conflict of interest on her part.

"That I have a friend that the town has bought a piece of property from has nothing to do with anything," she said. "A conflict of interest . . . is not what has happened here. If there's a conflict of interest, you get money in it. I have not received a dime from Bernadette Goodroe (the seller). If everybody on this council recused themself because they knew somebody in Cathlamet, you're not going to have anybody to vote on anything."

She further said that the leaders of the opposition including Council Members Laurel and Tanya Waller had a conflict of interest by going to a realtor and asking how much they could buy the property for and later making a fuss about it when they couldn't get it for a lower price.

"That's a lie," came a response from Paige Lake.

"Things are starting to get out of hand and unruly," Jacobson said. "It is time for us to call it a day."

He tried to bring the consent agenda back to the table; it had been delayed until after the discussion because of Council Member Laurel Waller's objection to a voucher to pay the lot purchase.

The audience objected, but Jacobson called for a motion to approve the consent agenda; Burnham made the motion; Smith seconded.

"Any discussion?" Jacobson asked.

"I'm really unhappy with what you're doing right here," Council Member Laurel Waller said. "I understand it started going sideways, and I think it's fine to take a moment to let people get back into it but I really . . . "

"We've taken a lot of time," Jacobson interrupted.

"We have all night," Wainright said.

"You might," Jacobson said. "I don't."

"This is important," Wainright replied.

Jacobson called for the vote, ruled that the motion passed without calling for any votes, and tapped the gavel.

"This meeting is adjourned," he said. "The meeting is getting out of control."

Tanya Waller pointed out that they needed a motion to adjourn; Jacobson called for the motion; it came and passed.

"This meeting is adjourned," he said a second time.

(From here on not for the print edition:)

Following are the points from the petition to reconsider:

--At the Cathlamet Town Council meeting on Monday, June 18, 2018 the Mayor and Council pushed through a motion for the town to purchase a lot on Butler Street for $68,000. The assessed value of said lot was $34,000 and it appraised for $40,000.

--The property is being purchased from a past member of the Town Council who is a close, personal friend of at least two of the current Council Members and the Mayor.

--The Mayor and the Council members did not recuse themselves from the vote or discussion.

--The Mayor and Council members did not allow public input or comment.

--It appears to be a gift of public funds to a close personal friend of the Mayor and Council members.

--The Mayor and Council members did not offer any reasons for the increased purchase price.

--Three months prior to this action, a $1,000 earnest money check was issued to the Seller by the Mayor or Town prior to the approval of the sale by the Council.

--The property is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Ecology.

--The Town of Cathlamet has limited parking spaces near Main Street and the Council stated that they were going to turn the parking lot into "green space", effectively removing the parking lot from any future use.

--We, the undersigned, are concerned citizens who urge our leaders to act now to rescind the purchase of the vacant lot. If you are unwilling to reverse this decision, we call upon Mayor Dale Jacobsen, Council Member Ryan Smith, Council Member Sue Cameron, and Council Member Jean Burnham to resign immediately.

-------------

Following is the statement Mayor Dale Jacobson read at the start of the public comment session:

• The purchase of 20 Butler Street: Process: On March 19, this property was scheduled for discussion on the open agenda. On the advice of our town attorney, it was moved to Executive Session for discussion. This was to insure that we wouldn't have a "bidding war" with others who might be interested in the property.

• Parking: The closure of the parking lot was the owner's decision.

• The value: The Council voted to have an appraisal of the lot, but the first estimate for an appraisal from a licensed commercial appraisal firm came in at $3,500 so we went with the less costly estimate of $500. First, the appraiser was not licensed to do business in our town at the time, nor is she a commercial appraiser. She was recruited by Councilwoman Waller, who asked for an appraisal. This appraisal did not consider the value to the public of public use of the lot. We do not believe that the appraisal is a reflection as to what should be paid for the lot.

• The Purchase: The Bank of the Pacific originally listed it for $90,000, it was purchased for $75,000 in 2007 and offered to us for $68,000. This was discussed in Executive Session, at the direction of our Town Attorney. Our concern was that someone could offer more and we would lose the opportunity to implement the Revitalization Plan and the ideas in it, to improve our town.

• Thoughts on where the taxpayer's money is best spent: We have a budget process including public hearings to gather information on budget priorities. Deciding where the money should go, is the decision of the Council, and based on citizen input in the hearings and we invite you to give us your feedback in the upcoming budget hearings in the fall.

• Status: I and the majority of the Council believe we have done our due diligence on this matter and stand by our decision to buy the land. The sale has closed, and we now own the property, so on to Phase II.

• We are excited about the purchase: We believe that it fits very nicely into the 2006 Revitalization plan that was done for the town. We envision a "Welcome" town square with a kiosk with directions about our town, with perhaps signage and the beginning of the walking trail to the Marina. This plan was written in 2006 with community input and it reflects desires of the community. We have offered the Chamber to help us design the use of the property, and will be convening a workshop with the Chamber for this project.

I am very saddened by the personal insults, the misinformation and the group attacks on our Council and our Citizens. I expect none of this to happen again. This body has had to endure slander, bullying, half- truths, and accusations of moral indecency in the past 30 days, all set up by a desperate few who have taken an oath to their wallets. We have always acted in the best interests of the Town. We adhere to the law and the State constitution. I suggest that those who have been "setup" by this group be careful where they are getting their Kool-aid.

• Property contamination: In a memo dated February 23, 2006, the Department of Ecology stated: "Ecology has determined that the independent remedial actions conducted at 20 Butler Street are sufficient to meet the substantive requirements contained in MTCA ...173-340 WAC, for characterizing and addressing the contamination at the Site. Therefore pursuant to WAC 173-340-515(5), Ecology is issuing this opinion that no further remedial action is necessary at the SITE under MTCA"

 

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