Complaints against Port of St. Helens commissioner dismissed
Complaints filed with the Oregon State Government Ethics Commission against Port of St. Helens Commissioner Paulette Lichatowich have been dismissed by the state.
OGEC confirmed the dismissal in letters to Lichatowich and the filer of the complaints, Brady Preheim.
Preheim, of St. Helens, owns a computer business in Scappoose and has previously run for a Port commissioner seat.
Lichatowich was elected to the board of commissioners for the Port of St. Helens in 2015, and is also currently campaigning for a Columbia County commissioner seat.
In two separate complaints filed with the commission, Preheim alleged Lichatowich was abusing the Port's compensation policy and using her elected position to gain financial benefit. He pointed to monthly expense reports Lichatowich submitted, requesting stipend payments for her attendance at county social and fundraising events like the annual Black Tie and Blue Jeans dinner, which raises money for scholarships for Columbia County students and was sponsored in-part by the Port.
Lichatowich has also requested compensation for her attendance at town hall meetings held in the county by members of congress, Preheim noted, despite never being asked to go in an official capacity by the Port. The OGEC reviewed one, but not all of the commissioner's payments for meeting attendance, Preheim said.
The complainant also alleges Lichatowich was wrong to request $50 a day in stipend payments in February 2017 for her time spent reviewing a lease agreement the Port has with Global Partners LP, a company that leases property at Port Westward Industrial Park to transport ethanol by rail through the county for further transport by barge.
Preheim pointed out that no other commissioner requested compensation for reviewing the lease.
Expense records show Lichatowich requested compensation for 10 days of lease contract review.
Per Port of St. Helens policy, commissioners can be paid up to $50 a day for time spent doing Port business, up to $1,000 each month. Commissioners also receive a flat rate of $150 each month to compensate them for general expenses related to conducting business on behalf of the Port at a home or remote office.
"The lease documents being reviewed by me were lengthy and complex and as a recently elected Port of St. Helens Commissioner I took extra time to fulfill my responsibility for due diligence," Lichatowich stated to OGEC in response to Preheim's complaints. "I reviewed all exhibits and maps to acquaint myself with a complex lease between several entities ... This amended, restated, complex lease is worth millions of dollars to the entities involved ... This was a controversial decision which warranted extra attention by me. I do not know how much time the other commissioners spent on reviewing documents. That was their decision."
Lichatowich also asserted that none of the stipend payments or reimbursements she's received while in office were considered lucrative.
Following a hearing last Friday, June 29, in which Lichatowich appeared with an attorney, the Ethics Commission moved to dismiss the complaints.
"The Commission did not find cause to proceed with an investigation," Ron Bersin, executive director of OGEC, stated in a letter to both Preheim and Lichatowich.
In a statement issued by Lichatowich Friday, the port commissioner said she "never errored" from her duty to uphold the law and serve county residents.
"Today the claims against me were dismissed by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission," Lichatowich stated. "This process has distracted from my responsibilities to the people of Columbia County and placed a strain on my family."
In a previous story, Lichatowich told the Spotlight she felt Preheim's complaints were politically motivated and sought only to interfere with her current campaign.
Preheim took issue with the Ethics Commission's complaint review process, calling it "one-sided" and "unfair," after he was not notified or allowed to attend the June 29 hearing. Ultimately, he said he'd like to see the Port's policy change to be more specific about what commissioners can claim on monthly expense reports.
"I have not spoken to a single person that thinks that Paulette [sic] actions of charging $500 and 10 days to read one contract is reasonable (even people that otherwise support her)," Preheim claimed.
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