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Case closed, for now, on CHD asset dispute

by: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Property once destined to be the site of a proposed hospital at Millard Road in St. Helens has been for sale ever since those plans fell through.Columbia Circuit Judge Ted Grove at a hearing Monday reiterated his finding that former Columbia Health District board members no longer had legal standing regarding decisions for the defunct district, said plaintiffs’ attorney James Huffman. Huffman is representing former CHD board members who allege a prior board’s decisions resulted in the illegal appointment of CHD trustees and distribution of the district’s assets.

The plaintiffs, led by former CHD board Chair Tammy Maygra, sought to overturn those decisions.

Also occurring earlier this month, the same plaintiffs, who Huffman represents, voluntarily dismissed a federal racketeering lawsuit against 13 defendants.

At this point, both actions have cleared the way for the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, acting as health district trustees, to conclude its distribution of health district assets resulting from 2011’s vote to dissolve that district.

Commissioner Tony Hyde said there are few prior health district assets remaining beyond the 8.3-acre Millard Road property, which had been the plaintiffs’ focus.

“The next step is that we have to figure out what the law says. It looks like the law says we have to disperse of the property, and according to the law it says it needs to go to the jurisdiction in which it lies,” Hyde said.

In this case, Oregon statute appears to indicate the Millard Road property would go to the city of St. Helens.

St. Helens residents in 2010 voted to annex the property, which the health district had acquired via a convoluted three-way land swap and money transfer involving the city, the St. Helens School District and the Columbia Health District.

Hyde said the commissioners had asked city officials about the possibility of transferring the property, which had been funded via all residents of the health district — including those in Scappoose and unincorporated areas — back to the county so that it could be used for some other health-related purpose, a proposition initially declined, he said.

Hyde said he envisions additional attempts for that purpose.

“It’s our desire to see that property put into use for health care, like it was originally intended,” he said. One possibility mentioned included using the property as a recruitment tool to entice health care agencies to build a clinic there.

Huffman said he disagrees with Grove’s decision, which had initially been captured in a Dec. 28 letter of summary judgment, and that he’s willing to challenge the decision prior to the March 6 appeal deadline.

“We’ll probably do that. I’m willing to do that,” said Huffman, who has represented the plaintiffs pro bono.

Huffman said his plaintiffs’ decided to dismiss the federal racketeering lawsuit with prejudice, adding there are plans to file new complaints on similar grounds on a one-by-one basis against some of the lesser-resourced defendants.

“It’s about preservation of resources. They have a lot and we don’t have much,” he said. “You don’t want to have multiple fronts in the war. You want to have one front.”

The federal lawsuit was filed in October and alleged the defendants, including the individual county commissioners, attorneys, former CHD and public health members and CRF&R personnel, misappropriated assets and fraudulently dissolved the special CHD tax district.