St. Helens councilor's Mexico trip questioned
A trip to Mexico taken by a St. Helens city councilor and a developer of a marijuana grow operation leasing property from the city is drawing criticism from city staff and members of the public.
Councilor Keith Locke said during a council meeting Wednesday, Jan. 17, that he and Alex Reverman, the licensed agent for ACSP LLC, a holding company that signed a lease agreement with the city of St. Helens last summer to develop a marijuana grow operation on the city's industrial property, traveled together in December as friends.
The two had not met or had any association prior to Reverman's involvement with the city as a prospective tenant.
During the City Council meeting, Locke said he wanted to address "a few comments lately about a few things that are maybe unethical" and get the story straight before "nasty rumors" spread.
Speaking with the Spotlight, Locke said in December he spent six days with Reverman, Reverman's mother and one of Reverman's friends at a condo the Revermans own in Cerritos Surf Town, roughly 40 miles north of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
During the trip, Locke said he paid for his own airfare, wrote a $250 check to Reverman to pay for his stay at the condo, helped with minor house repairs, and in some situations paid for dinner for the entire group — a gesture that was reciprocated by others, he said.
"I knew there was going to be a few [comments] because it happens in this town," Locke said. "I initially paid for my expenses because I knew this would come up."
Reverman told the Spotlight he had invited Locke to check out his house. He said rumors about ACSP getting special benefits for forging an inappropriate relationship with the councilor were "ridiculous."
City Administrator John Walsh said Reverman was previously associated with another group that approached the city in 2016 about developing on the city's industrial property at the former Boise Inc. pulp and paper mill. When plans for that company ultimately fell through, Reverman later returned with a different group proposing to build a marijuana grow at the city-owned site, Walsh explained.
Locke said he met Reverman through the development project and the two developed a friendship.
"I just worked with them because I'm more familiar with the mill because I worked with [Boise]," Locke said. "Because of all the dealings and the working with everything, Alex and I spent a lot of time together."
The city of St. Helens signed a lease agreement with ACSP last June. Locke participated in the vote to approve the ground lease agreement, but at the time did not raise the issue of his developing friendship with Reverman.
Locke defended his participation in the discussions and decision-making.
"The point is that I don't have to recuse myself from any of it because there's no conflict of interest, period," Locke said.
Most recently, Locke attended an executive session meeting held under real property transactions that related to business discussions about ACSP. No public decisions were made.
Ron Bersin, executive director of the Oregon Government and Ethics Commission, said a violation of Oregon Ethics Law occurs only if the public official is benefiting financially in some capacity.
Public officials are allowed to receive one gift per calendar year under $50 in value from an individual who has a specific interest in the decision-making process of that official, Bersin added.
Walsh said he does not see the connection as a direct conflict of interest, but made the argument that "perception is reality" and, airing on the side of caution, said Locke potentially should have been excluded from decision-making regarding ACSP.
"You know, he worked with the other group, and maybe he shouldn't have on the lease agreement, just airing on the side of perception," Walsh
Locke later added that several city employees spoke with him about actions he had taken that they perceived to be ethically questionable, including his work with Cascades Tissue as a city liaison despite the fact Locke's wife, Kathy, is currently employed at Cascades.
In 2010, former St. Helens Mayor Randy Peterson had an ethics complaint filed against him for taking part in negotiations over a water contract with Boise Inc. At the time, the mayor's brother worked for Boise Inc. Peterson was issued a letter of education from the OGEC, the lightest penalty the agency can invoke.