Business & economy

Rail meeting canceled after officials meet with attorneys regarding newspaper lawsuit

NYSSA – A public meeting of the board charged with overseeing the Treasure Valley Reload Center ended abruptly last week after officials met behind closed doors to discuss a recent lawsuit filed by the Malheur Enterprise to seek public records.

The regular meeting of the Malheur County Development Corp., the public company set up by county commissioners to oversee the now beleaguered project, began Thursday, Jan. 26, as scheduled but the board immediately moved into an executive – or closed door ­­– session to discuss the recent legal action.

After meeting with attorneys out of public view for about a half hour, the board returned to the public session. The board then accepted the recommendation of Greg Smith, the project manager, to cancel the public portion of the meeting. He said the staff needed more time to prepare information on the project’s finances.

An agenda issued before the meeting showed officials were slated to discuss an update on the facility from Smith, the project manager, and Brad Baird, the president of Anderson Perry & Associates. Anderson Perry & Associates is the firm contracted to do the engineering work on the rail project.

Grant Kitamura, a local onion industry executive and president of the development corporation, said he could not comment on why the board suddenly ended the meeting even with a full agenda. He said he couldn’t answer questions from the Enterprise because of the litigation.

READ IT: Malheur Enterprise lawsuit

The Enterprise sued the development corporation Jan. 19 in Malheur County Circuit Court to require the development corporation to comply with an order from Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe to release public records regarding a controversial rail spur at the Nyssa project.

Goldthorpe’s order was in response to a failure by the corporation to release documents sought in an October 27 public records request from the Enterprise regarding a contract with R6 Contracting Inc. – formerly Steven Lindley Contracting – to build a fourth rail spur at the facility.

The development corporation notified the Enterprise Nov. 1 it received the public records request and would provide the documents by Dec. 2.

However, the corporation didn’t release all documents and told the Enterprise some of the documents sought by the newspaper were under the control of Anderson Perry & Associates.

Baird told the Enterprise his firm would address part of the request by Dec. 8. That never happened.

Finally, on Dec. 13, the Enterprise notified the development corporation the newspaper had not received any documents for more than six weeks. Three days later the newspaper asked Goldthorpe to order the release of the documents.

Goldthorpe issued an order Jan. 5 to compel the records requested by the Enterprise to be released and termed the time gap in disclosure to be an “unjustified delay.”

The development company didn’t produce the records and the newspaper sued. The suit is the second filed by the news organization to obtain public records the public company has refused to release.

Under Oregon law, the development corporation will have to pay all legal costs for the most recent lawsuit because it ignored Goldthorpe’s order.

Under Oregon law, a public body such as the development corporation must fulfill a public records request “as soon as practicable and without reasonable delay.”

During the meeting, Smith appeared to be participating in his contractor role while in his state legislative office, raising questions about whether he was using his legislative position to support his private company.

According to a manual for public officials issued by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, “Public officials may not use a government agency’s supplies, facilities, equipment, employees, records or any other public resources to engage in their private employment or business interests.”

Smith didn’t respond to emails about the matter sent to his legislative and private company emails.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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