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In wake of ethics complaints over commissioner expenses, Port of St. Helens looks for deeper clarity, board control

In the wake of an ethics complaint involving compensation policies at the Port of St. Helens, the agency may be changing how it approves commissioner expenses and stipends. SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Port of St. Helens Commissioner Chris Iverson (center) suggests altering the ports policy for how commissioner expenses and stipend payments are approved during a regular meeting Wednesday, July 11. To the right, Commissioner Mike Avent listens and attorney Robert Salisbury (left) takes note.

Port Commissioner Chris Iverson suggested Wednesday, July 11, that commissioner expenses and requests for reimbursements be approved each month by the board alongside other regular expenses.

Iverson said port staff shouldn't have the burden of approving payments and reimbursements for expenses, especially since they have no authority to deny payment to the port's elected officials.

Iverson, who was named president of the port's board of commissioners last Wednesday, also suggested having a reference sheet for what types of events or work qualify for stipend requests.

The port's current policy provides a $150 monthly stipend to commissioners. It also allows commissioners to receive $50 per day for work performed or meetings attended on behalf of the agency, but it isn't specific.

Iverson distributed a rough draft handout he created showing a list that includes port meeting attendance, out-of-town conference attendance, reimbursement for meals and other expenses related to out-of-town travel or work performed on behalf of the port, and "review of documents, research or inspections done" as acceptable expenses. Unacceptable expenses, Iverson suggests, are "meetings outside the port not authorized by the commission," "unreasonable multiple meeting charges for reviewing the same document," and "social gatherings where no port business is conducted."

The expense discussion was timely as Paulette Lichatowich, who resigned from her position as port commissioner in early July, was the subject of two complaints filed with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission by Brady Preheim. Preheim alleged the former commissioner was using her position for financial benefit and abusing the stipend policy by requesting $50 stipends for reviewing port documents.

Lichatowich argued her attendance at meetings was applicable to her position at the port and her request for $500 in stipend payments was to cover extensive time spent reviewing a lengthy lease document with a major industrial tenant before a meeting.

The complaints were eventually dismissed, but the process led port commissioners to question current policies about commissioner stipends.

"When you first come on as a commissioner, you don't know what's an acceptable expense," Iverson said, noting he brought it up "strictly for a topic of conversation."

"What I never have been a fan of is commissioners policing each other," Commissioner Robert Keyser said during the discussion. "I think it's an exercise in futility ... but I do think what's acceptable is a set of guidelines on what's a reasonable [expense.]"

Commissioners agreed to start including monthly expense and stipend payments as a consent agenda item for approval during regular meetings.

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