Ethics complaints lobbed at port commissioner
Port of St. Helens Commissioner Paulette Lichatowich is the subject of two complaints filed with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.
The complaints were filed by St. Helens resident and Scappoose business owner Brady Preheim. Preheim filed a complaint in May alleging Lichatowich may have violated Oregon government ethics laws that prohibit an elected official from using their official position for personal financial gain, as well as laws relating to conflict of interest. Preheim filed a follow-up complaint June 7, alleging Lichatowich billed the Port of St. Helens for an excessive list of meetings she attended.
Lichatowich served as a Columbia County planning commissioner for 13 years until her resignation Monday, June 12, and is currently running for a seat on the county's board of commissioners.
Preheim says he believes the port commissioner is requesting payments in excess of what port policies allow for, constituting ethics violations and an attempt to make money from her position. He points to an expense report submitted by Lichatowich in February 2017, in which she billed $500 to the port for 10 days of her time spent reviewing the port district's lease with Global Partners LP. Another expense, billed in February 2016, shows the commissioner requested payment for drafting a memo to the port's executive director at the time regarding a state Land Use Board of Appeals issue the port is involved in.
Port of St. Helens policies allow elected commissioners to request reimbursements for expenses such as mileage, meals and lodging incurred while representing the port. They also provide for up to $50 per day in compensation for meeting attendance or work performed on behalf of the port, in addition to a $150 monthly stipend each commissioner automatically gets, to cover routine expenses incurred while working on port business from home.
"When she was running for office, I got emailed a copy of those expenses," Preheim noted. "That prompted me to file a complaint. The thing that sticks out to me is the 10 days to review a contract."
An initial complaint filed by Preheim with the ethics commission in April was never pursued, after the commission determined Lichatowich's compensation request for her expenses and time fell outside the jurisdiction of the OGEC and did not violate any rules about compensation.
"ORS 244.040 (1) prohibits a public official from using or attempting to use their official position to obtain a private financial benefit or avoid a financial detriment ... However, a public official is allowed to accept reimbursement of expenses or any part of their official compensation package," Ronald Bersin, executive director of OGEC, stated in a response letter to Preheim on April 9.
Preheim is awaiting response on two of the follow-up complaints he submitted after the first one was not investigated.
A letter from the ethics commission indicates the complaint submitted in May is under "preliminary review" to determine if there is sufficient cause for an investigation.
Lichatowich declined to comment on the matter extensively, but did say she feels that the complaints are politically motivated and the timing is suspect, considering her current election bid.
"It's unfortunate and inappropriate, and it's very timely," Lichatowich said Thursday. "If he had these complaints, he could have brought them up last year."