PORT LUDLOW — A Port Ludlow attorney has sent a letter to the Washington State Auditor’s Office alleging a conflict of interest for Jefferson County Commissioner Greg Brotherton regarding his role as chairman of the board of trustees. Olympic Community Action Programs, a non-profit organization that receives public funding.
The letter was made available to Peninsula Daily News by Brotherton’s opponent in the November general election, Marcia Kelbon, who said she agreed with the complaint.
Rosemary Schurman — a lawyer who, according to his sitefocuses on Social Security disability claims — sent the letter to the auditor on Wednesday.
He alleges that Brotherton’s role as commissioner deciding where public funds should be spent conflicts with his other role as a board member and current president of an organization that receives some of those funds.
Schurman alleges that since 2019 when Brotherton took office, Jefferson County has directed more than $3 million to OlyCAP, of which Brotherton was also a board member.
“There were awards over $3 million that went to a nonprofit agency,” Schurman said in an interview with Peninsula Daily News. “That’s a lot of money, especially in Jefferson County where we have a lot of need.”
In his letter to the auditor, Schurman says Brotherton’s dual role, which is unpaid on the board, is a violation of state law which states that “no municipal officer shall be beneficiary, directly or indirectly, of a contract which may be made by, through or under the supervision of such officer, in whole or in part, or which may be made for the benefit of his office, or accept, directly or indirectly, any remuneration, gratuity or reward in connection with this contract of any other person having a beneficial interest therein.
Brotherton said it is solely because of his role as county commissioner that he sits on the board of OlyCAP, and prior to his election as commissioner he had no relationship with the organization. The increase in the amount of money going to OlyCAP is the result of additional federal funds allocated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
“As far as I know, it’s not a conflict of interest,” Brotherton said. “It is a requirement that we serve as one of the county commissioners on the OlyCAP board.”
Kelbon and Schurman both said Brotherton should recuse themselves from further discussions regarding OlyCAP, but with no clear conflict of interest, Brotherton said he saw no reason to do so.
“I don’t believe it’s a conflict of interest,” Brotherton said. “I am a results-oriented leader and (the commissioners) advocate for what is going to do the most good with these public funds.
“I am proud of the work I have done as County Commissioner on the OlyCAP Board of Directors.”
OlyCAP is a Community Action Agency (CAA) – a local agency that receives and administers federal block grants for community services – which must be governed by a board of at least one-third elected officials.
Schurman acknowledges that in his letter, but says the elected official requirement only applies to the administration of federal grants, not state or local funding.
“If (Brotherton) simply served on the OlyCAP board without Jefferson County awarding local grant agreements and service contracts to OlyCAP, there would be no conflict,” Schurman said. .
“But by providing Jefferson County funding to the nonprofit CAA of which he is chairman of the board and the manner in which he does so, he exceeds the CAA’s federal block grant requirement and violates the Washington State law regarding municipal conflicts of interest. ”
Brotherton said the commissioners had an open and transparent RFP process and that OlyCAP was able to provide the services the county needed.
“You can go back and watch the bidding process,” Brotherton said. “We strive to be transparent and fair across all organizations, and we truly seek the best results.”
Schurman shared a copy of the complaint with Kelbon, a retired Republican attorney who is challenging Brotherton, a Democrat, for the District 3 commissioner seat in the Nov. 8 general election.
Shurman said she was not hired by Kelbon but decided to look into a potential conflict of interest after hearing Kelbon mention it during the campaign.
In an interview with PDN, Kelbon said she had met Schurman, but the two were not close, although Kelbon said her records showed Schurman donated to her campaign.
“It strikes me as a pretty compelling case that what he’s doing is not in compliance (with the Revised Washington Code),” Kelbon said of the letter.
Both Kelbon and Schurman said they had no issues with OlyCAP and said the organization has done good work in the community; it was the potential conflict of interest that they found concerning.
Kelbon said she agreed with Schurman that Brotherton should recuse himself from any further votes and discussions regarding OlyCAP funding, and that policies should be changed so that a similar dispute does not happen again. .
Kathleen Cooper, director of communications for the state auditor’s office, said she could not comment on Schurman’s complaint and that such submissions are individually reviewed by the office.
Cooper said the complaint will be reviewed to see if there is a role for the auditor’s office.
Cooper could not give a timeline as to when the complaint might be addressed, but that depending on the nature of a complaint, the auditor’s office may include this information in the next regular audit.
Most counties are audited annually, Cooper said, and Jefferson Country’s latest audits — covering the 2020 calendar year — were released in March.