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Water board decides not to pay legal bills

The 3-2 vote splits on the Clackamas River Water Board are not a thing of the past, even with three new board members appointed in mid-November by county commissioners.

CRW commissioners Patricia Holloway and Grafton Sterling, who have been in the minority on many board votes and are subjects of a recall effort, found an ally last week in their opposition to a bill of almost $30,000 for legal fees that General Manager Lee Moore incurred in the legal fight over the CRW board vacancy issue.

Commissioner Mike Cardwell resigned in mid-July, and two other water district commissioners resigned Oct. 31.

New Commissioner Hugh Kalani made a motion at the Nov. 27 board meeting that the water district pay Moore’s attorney, Michael Nixon, the full amount of $29,565. Fellow county-appointed Commissioner Kenneth Humberston, also of unincorporated Oregon City, seconded the motion.

Larry Sowa, who was the only commissioner favored for appointment by both the county and the sitting commissioners, joined Holloway and Sterling in voting against the motion.

The water district board has had three meetings since Kalani, Humberston and Sowa, a former county commissioner, were sworn in Nov. 15.

Holloway expressed concern that the bill shows Moore, Nixon and Clackamas County Counsel Stephen Madkour working in a “very coordinated” way with water district attorney Dean Phillips. Holloway said she had “lots of problems” with that.

“Especially after Phillips said in an email that he could take no position because it is an ‘election’ issue,” she said.

Commissioners had tried to fire Phillips in an Oct. 30 meeting that Clackamas County Circuit Judge Jeffrey S. Jones ruled illegal on Nov. 15.

The invoice shows:

1. Nixon charged more than 100 hours between Oct. 30 and Nov. 24 at $300 an hour, mostly to attend hearings, read legal briefs and strategize responses to Holloway and Sterling’s action to appoint Jeff Monroy and act with him as the legitimate board.

2. While arranging a last-minute plane from Pittsburgh, Nixon spent 24 minutes exchanging emails with Madkour and Phillips on Nov. 1 to prepare for a 66-minute “emergency” meeting with Moore.

3. Nixon exchanged emails with Madkour for an hour on Nov. 6 about “logistics” of Clackamas County’s process for appointing to the water district board. After reaching commissioners’ attorney James D. Huffman by phone, Nixon shared the information gleaned from Huffman with Madkour and Phillips in an email later that day.

4. At least a couple hours Nixon charged had involved discussions with reporters and reading news stories, although these items are sometimes included with general “reviews” or “preparations” and not itemized.

5. Nixon studied filings by Oak Grove residents Jim Knapp and Thelma Haggenmiller, who challenged Clackamas County’s funding of light rail, in developing the water district’s strategy against Holloway and Sterling.

Kalani said he was disappointed his motion did not pass and thinks it could come forward in a different form at an upcoming meeting.

“The request for reimbursement by the attorney seemed to me to be a legitimate cost of doing business for the district and keeping things orderly,” Kalani said.

Although he is taking no position on the recall petitions, Kalani said that results of the recall efforts and the May election could have an effect on the direction of the consistently divided board.