Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Local Weather

Cloudy

48°F

Portland

Cloudy

Humidity: 89%

Wind: 5 mph

  • 21 Apr 2014

    Few Showers 65°F 44°F

  • 22 Apr 2014

    Thundershowers 56°F 44°F


Sterling 'contrary' to Clackamas River Water's best interests

The Clackamas River Water board voted Dec. 12 to send Commissioner Grafton Sterling a second notice of his violation of board policy relating to unauthorized contact with CRW vendors, which his four political adversaries say has added to the agency’s liability risks.

by: FILE PHOTO - Sterling
Due to a petitioner’s clerical error, Sterling escaped being a target of the campaign that overwhelmingly recalled Pat Holloway from the board in March.

CRW General Counsel Dean Phillips sent a previous warning letter Sept. 9 to Sterling about his policy violation by contacting the Philadelphia Insurance Co. Although Sterling acknowledged being put on notice, he again contacted Philadelphia Insurance about ongoing litigation Oct. 27.

“That is the role of CRW’s designated and appointed representatives under the general supervision of the entire board — not individual board members,” wrote Larry Sowa, president of the CRW board of commissioners.

Sowa said even Sterling’s baseless claims force legal defense costs and could dissuade Philadelphia Insurance from renewing the CRW contract for 2014. After the Special Districts Association of Oregon declined to renew coverage in 2013 for the regional water service that has frequently headed to court, CRW’s board voted 4-1 on Dec. 27, 2012, for Philadelphia Insurance’s $250,000 premium, $81,500 more per year. Sterling voted against the proposal.

Clackamas County Circuit Court ruled on Nov. 20 that there was insufficient evidence of “illegal votes” in CRW elections, as Sterling alleged to Philadelphia Insurance. The Oregon Court of Appeals has prohibited former commissioners from using information in their possession that is exempt from public disclosure under Oregon Public Records Law, but there is no “gag order,” nor does the prohibition involve “public information,” Sowa said.

“Why you, as a commissioner of Clackamas River Water, would want to send a letter to CRW’s (insurance) carrier with these types of errors and embellishments is completely contrary to the best interests of CRW,” Sowa wrote to Sterling. “Furthermore, while CRW has in fact notified Philadelphia of the same litigation of which you felt compelled to notify, it is completely reasonable and possible that the CRW board would consider not notifying a carrier of a lawsuit or making a claim for some litigation to reduce the possibility of having CRW’s policy canceled due to the excessive number of claims.”

In justifying his campaign, Sterling points to “historical lessons that if not learned will cost the ratepayers dearly.” Oregon City and the South Fork Water Board once again are challenging a proposed agreement between CRW and the Sunrise Water Authority.

The city had complained in 2006 to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, saying that the agencies sharing CRW’s 24 million gallon-per-day-capacity water-treatment plant would infringe on Oregon City’s future growth.

But CRW officials say Sterling can’t justify his actions by alleging censorship and his “duty as an elected official.” “Threats of litigation” may occur in the course of doing business, Sowa noted, but insurance policies only require notification of actual “claims,” which neither Oregon City nor the League of Oregon Cities had made relating to the proposed 190 Cooperative Agreement.

“There is absolutely no basis to your statement that (CRW General Manager Lee) Moore was ‘terminated for inappropriately spending nearly $850,000’ at the Oregon Lottery. Likewise, there is absolutely no basis for your insinuation that Mr. Moore has ‘misspent’ CRW funds in the millions and rising,” Sowa wrote. “This Board clearly recognizes one’s right to freedom of speech, but not when that speech is defamatory, false and creates increased risk of liability to CRW.”

CRW board members plan to address Sterling’s violations “through all lawful means,” including Board Code of Conduct sanctions and any other disciplinary measures deemed necessary.

“While we regret these actions are necessary, it is obvious that you are not willing to conduct yourself within the customary guidelines of performance for elected officials,” Sowa wrote.