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PUD director's move outside of district draws scrutiny

Harry Price undergoing health recovery outside of his subdivision

PRICE Columbia River People’s Utility District Vice President Harry Price says he is temporarily living outside the district, while he recovers from a health issue.

Price declined to provide much information and was unreachable by cell phone earlier this week, but he returned to the PUD’s monthly meeting last Tuesday, March 15, after a two-month absence.

Price confirmed last week that he is staying outside his subdivision while he is being cared for by his daughter.

“I own property within the district,” Price said, when asked whether he was still living within PUD boundaries.

“I’m [rehabilitating.] I’ve got 19 more weeks,” Price said, noting he was focusing on his health. “That’s the only thing the board needs to be concerned about.”

According to Oregon Revised Statutes, directors of publicly owned utility districts must reside in the subdivision to which they were elected to represent.

The law does not address exceptions for elected representatives temporarily living elsewhere.

Philip Griffin, the PUD’s attorney, said the district is asking for clarification on state statutes, which “do not clearly address the situation of Mr. Price, who is not residing in his subdivision for medical reasons.”

“We doubt that the legislature intended to have a board member removed from his position while temporarily out of his subdivision to receive medical care, especially while he continues to perform his duties to his constituents,” Griffin stated by email. “Mr. Price continues to maintain his home in his subdivision and intends to return there when his medical care is completed.”

Griffin said the PUD may file a declaratory judgment in a circuit court to have a judge rule on the residency requirements for publicly owned utility districts like the PUD.

During last week’s PUD meeting, a ratepayer asked Price about his living arrangements, pressing for details from Price, to little avail.

Brady Preheim, who is a Columbia River PUD customer and also running for a seat on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, said he has since sent notice of Price’s move to the Oregon Attorney General and the state Government Ethics Commission.

“It’s pretty clear,” Preheim said Wednesday by phone of the state statute governing PUD residency requirements. “It says electors shall reside in the subdivision.”

“He, by his own admission, no longer lives there,” Preheim added.

Preheim said he understands elected officials sometimes must be absent due to vacation or illness.

“What bothers me about that is I’ve heard from multiple people at the PUD that he has zero plans to return to his home and is now trying to rent the house,” Preheim said. “I was even more infuriated when I felt like they were trying to push it under the rug and cover it up.”