PORT LUDLOW — A Port Ludlow lawyer 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 board chair of Olympic Community Action Programs, a nonprofit organization that receives public funds.
The letter was made available to Peninsula Daily News by Brotherton’s opponent in the November general election, Marcia Kelbon, who said she agrees with the complaint.
Rosemary Schurman — a lawyer who, according to her website, focuses on Social Security Disability claims — sent the letter to the auditor on Wednesday.
It alleges Brotherton’s role as a commissioner deciding where public monies should be spent is a conflict with his other role as a board member, and present chair, of an organization that receives some of those funds.
Schurman alleges that, since 2019, when Brotherton assumed office, Jefferson County has directed more than $3 million to OlyCAP, for which Brotherton was also a board member.
“There’s been awards of more than $3 million that have gone 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 needs.”
In her letter to the auditor, Schurman claims the dual role of Brotherton, who is unpaid on the board, is a violation of state law which states, “no municipal officer shall be beneficially interested, directly or indirectly, in any 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 or her office, or accept, directly or indirectly, any compensation, gratuity or reward in connection with such contract from any other person beneficially interested therein.”
Brotherton said it is only because of his role as a county commissioner that he serves on OlyCAP’s board, and prior to his election as commissioner, he had no relationship with the organization. The increase in the amount of money going to OlyCAP was a result of additional federal funds being allocated as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
“As far as I know, it’s not a conflict of interest,” Brotherton said. “It’s a requirement that we seat one of the county commissioners on the board of OlyCAP.”
Kelbon and Schurman both said Brotherton should recuse himself from further debates regarding OlyCAP, but without a clear conflict of interest, Brotherton said he saw no reason to do that.
“I don’t believe it is a conflict on interest,” Brotherton said. “I’m an outcome-based leader and (the commissioners) advocate for what is going to do the most good with these public funds.
“I’m proud of the work I’ve done as a county commissioner on the board of OlyCAP.”
OlyCAP is a community action agency (CAA) — a local agency that receives and administers federal Community Service Block Grants — which must be governed by a board consisting of at least one-third elected officials.
Schurman acknowledges that in her letter but states the elected-official requirement applies only to the administration of federal grants, not state or local funding.
“If (Brotherton) simply served on the board of OlyCAP without Jefferson County awarding local grant agreements and services contracts to OlyCAP, there would not be a conflict,” Schurman said.
“But by awarding Jefferson County funding to the nonprofit CAA on which he serves as board chair and in the manner in which he does, he exceeds the requirement for CAA federal block grants and is in violation of Washington State Law regarding municipal conflicts of interest.”
Brotherton said commissioners have an open and transparent request for proposal process, and OlyCAP was able to provide the services the county needed.
“You can go back and watch the RFP process,” Brotherton said. “We strive to be transparent and fair between all the organizations, and we are really looking for the best outcomes.”
Schurman shared a copy of the complaint with Kelbon, a Republican retired attorney who is challenging Brotherton, a Democrat, for the District 3 commissioner seat in the Nov. 8 general election.
Shurman said she wasn’t hired by Kelbon but decided to look into potential a conflict of interest after hearing Kelbon mention it during the campaign.
In an interview with PDN, Kelbon said she had met Schurman, but that the two weren’t close, though Kelbon said her records showed Schurman has donated to her campaign.
“It looks to me to be a pretty compelling case that what he is doing does not comply with (the Revised Code of Washington),” Kelbon said of the letter.
Both Kelbon and Schurman said they had no issue with OlyCAP and said the organization did good work in the community; it was the potential conflict of interest they found concerning.
Kelbon said she agreed with Schurman that Brotherton should recuse himself from any further votes and discussions regarding funding to OlyCAP, and that policies should be changed so a similar conflict doesn’t arise again.
Kathleen Cooper, communications director for the state auditor’s office, said she couldn’t comment on Schurman’s complaint and that such submissions are reviewed individually by the office.
Cooper said the complaint will be reviewed to see if there’s 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 that information in the next regular audit.
Most counties are audited every year, Cooper said, and the latest audits of Jefferson Country — covering the 2020 calendar year — were released in March.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.