HASSO HERING

A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Demolition meeting ends on a sour note

Written November 28th, 2022 by Hasso Hering

The Broadalbin Street frontage of the former Wells Fargo branch on Sept. 19. The city council (ARA) voted Monday to award a contract to demolish the building.

Monday’s meeting of the Albany Revitalization Agency was called to award a demolition contract for the former Wells Fargo branch downtown. It ended on a sour note when the chair, Councilwoman Bessie Johnson, formally accused member Dick Olsen of violating the secrecy of an executive session.

She read a prepared statement criticizing Olsen for comments he made at the Nov. 16  open session of the ARA, remarks that referred to discussions that had taken place at an executive city council session closed to the public on Sept. 14.

Johnson’s statement said council members are sworn to uphold all laws and to respect them. She implied that there was something illegal with talking about the substance of an executive sessions.

There’s nothing in the Oregon Public Meetings Law that says members of a governing body must maintain the confidentiality of executive sessions.

On Sept. 14, after reopening their closed meeting to the public, the city council voted 4-2 to “authorize the city staff to enter into negotiations for the transaction of real property within the city.” Olsen and Councilwoman Stacey Bartholomew voted “no.”

Just which properties are involved and with whom the negotiations were intended to take place was cloaked in the confidentiality of the executive session.

On Nov. 16, the council talked about the planned demolition of the former Wells Fargo branch downtown, and Olsen spoke up. He questioned just what the city would do with the site and its adjoining parking lot.

In that connection Olsen referred to the discussion during the Sept. 14 executive session. Mayor Alex Johnson II cautioned him that he was disclosing confidential stuff, and Olsen shrugged it off.

I attended the Nov. 16 ARA session in person but don’t remember word for word who said what. The audio recording of the meeting is no help because it has not been posted.

It’s a mystery why Councilor Johnson was persuaded to make a big issue of this.

Both she and Olsen this month lost their bids for re-election. And why a public reprimand of someone who served the city for most of the last 50 years? Especially since this rebuke calls attention to just what these confidential property negotiations entail?

Nobody in the public paid any attention to this alleged breach of confidentiality when it happened, and everybody who did had forgotten about it — until now.

Johnson adjourned the meeting after blasting Olsen. He didn’t respond. As far as I could see, watching online, he was no longer there.

Oh, by the way, before listening to this condemnation of its most senior member, the ARA voted to accept the low bid for the demolition of the former Wells Fargo branch at 300 West First Ave.

The contract goes to Willamette Construction Service, doing business as Laneco Demolition, of Portland. The bid was $238,000, the lowest of three.

Albany bought the property in 2019 for $1.5 million. Once the building is gone, the council hopes the city can sell the empty site, minus the parking lot, to someone who will build apartments there, maybe with commercial space on the ground floor. (hh)





17 responses to “Demolition meeting ends on a sour note”

  1. Tamme Young says:

    What is wrong with the building that it cannot be used as is? Is it more profitable as a empty lot? Where on earth would tenets park for apartments?

  2. Jan Shea says:

    “Nobody in the public paid any attention to this alleged breach of confidentiality when it happened, and everybody who did had forgotten about it — until now.”

    I thought this was the most important statement in your essay.

  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Does the Oregon Government Ethics Commission have jurisdiction over this alleged violation?

    All it takes is for someone to file a complaint. A civil penalty may be meted out.

    https://www.oregon.gov/ogec/public-records/pages/complaints.aspx

    • Hasso Hering says:

      I’m pretty sure the enforcement mechanism in the law, such as it is, concerns the improper exclusion of the public, not the spilling of confidential beans.

  4. MarK says:

    Why can’t the council focus on fixing things like our streets instead of dabbling in real estate (which they’re failures at).

    • Bill Kapaun says:

      With their miserable performance of this Council, maybe the streets are safer if they don’t do anything?

  5. mike says:

    Nov 16 and 28th recordings have been posted, and wow, the audio is shockingly bad. I wonder why the ARA meeting recordings are so bad, but the main city council recording are much nicer? I can barely understand what people are saying in the ARA video for Nov 16 (see 35:45 for when it seems that Olsen starts to say things that are ‘taboo’ – though the conversation about Wells Fargo in general starts before that point).

    https://www.cityofalbany.net/cara/ara

    Now, the parking lot situation is interesting, apparently some part of the Wells Fargo lot was contractually promised to provide parking to the St. Francis project. Sounds like shared use between it and whomever buys the remaining Wells Fargo lot?

  6. JC says:

    Either keep building and repurpose or use this as an opportunity to get CARA money and other grants to tear down building and invest in building a large multistory Parking Garage…as we all know the parking issue is a major deterrent for down town growth you want to help get people and business there the city must make that investment JMO

  7. Anon says:

    Why would the discussion about the demolition of a building qualify for an executive session in the first place? Noting proprietary about it. No current litigation, nor litigation likely to be filed. The publics interest would be best served if the city conducts the publics business in a public meeting.

  8. Dick Olsen says:

    Thanks Hasso for the heads up on Bessie Johnson’s unfortunate letter. I would have responded to it at the meeting and voted NO with major objections to the costly destruction of the Wells Fargo building had I been there. I missed the meeting because it was not shown on the 4:00 study session (which I had attended) agenda or on the meetings schedule we receive nor did I receive an agenda for the ARA meeting itself. Usually these meetings occur on third Wednesdays of the month and in the past I have always receive a paper agenda prior to the ARA meetings. Poor excuses I know. I should have been there.

    As to Bessie’s sad letter, do I feel chastened? No I do not. I may be wrong, but, I have always felt that executive sessions were appropriate when a person or party would be harmed or embarrassed if the Council’s deliberations were made public or if the City would loose out on an opportunity to fix a problematic situation. I do object to the use of executive (secret) sessions to short change local businesses or developers in order to do favors for Mr, Big Money from Portland or Eugene.

    An example of these secret and perhaps illegal dealings was shown by Marilyn Smith’s vehement insistence at the November 16 meeting that parking had been indeed reserved in the Wells Fargo lot for the redevelopment of the St. Francis hotel. It had, but, Staff had somehow secretly removed that reservation from the St. Francis contract without the approval or even the knowledge of the ARA board. By chance and accident, I happened to hear of it and that was the reason I brought it up at the November 16 meeting. I suggested to Ms. Smith that if she was so sure, she should move to restate the guarantee of parking availability in the Wells Fargo lot for the approved renovation of the St. Francis. She made the motion and I seconded it. After much discussion and panicky comments from Staff, Smiths motion failed 3 to4. Smith voted NO to her own motion after she realized that Staff had torpedoed the Wells Fargo parking part of the St.Francis contract. Which was the greater sin, my bringing up these questionable dealings, or our Urban Renewal Staff playing fast and loose with the rules for the benefit of Mr. Big Money?

    I have often wondered why seemingly excellent proposals to restore the St. Francis and Wells Fargo buildings by highly regarded local builders have been approved by CARA and the ARA only to find after lengthy delays that our Urban Renewal Staff finds reasons why they just wont work. Will these same problems hinder Mr. Big Money? I doubt it. I asked if he wold pay us back the $1.5million for the building and the $0.25 million to tear it down. I got no answer. Instead we leaned that Staff is finding a way to give him a break from paying any property tax for ten years. One can see the reason for wanting secrecy, but, to me it’s not fair.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      “I missed the meeting because it was not shown on the 4:00 study session (which I had attended) agenda or on the meetings schedule we receive nor did I receive an agenda for the ARA meeting itself.”

      Notice of the ARA meeting was sent to all council on 11/23 and as shown on the “whiteboard” PDF attached to the email:

      Sent: Wednesday, November 23, 2022 9:01:58 AM
      To: City Council
      Subject: Council Meeting Schedule for Nov 28- Dec 16 and Updated List of Future Agenda Items

      Good morning, Council,

      Your meeting schedule for the next few weeks is listed below and a list of council agenda items is attached.

      Nov 28- Dec 16

      Monday, Nov 28
      4 p.m. City Council Work Session
      5:15 p.m. ARA Meeting
      Monday, Dec 12
      4 p.m. City Council Work Session
      5:30 p.m. Joint Session with Planning Commission
      Wednesday, Dec 14
      6 p.m. City Council Meeting

  9. MarK says:

    Integrity, trustworthiness and the idea of transparency for the council (much like that of our Federal Government) has flown out the window.

  10. Anon says:

    Pay 1.5 million of taxpayer dollars for a building that was assessed at hundreds of thousands of dollars less than that. Sit on it a few years, pay people to make proposals to try to figure out what to do with it. Come up empty and then spend hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars to demolish it. It’s a two million dollar parking lot that will hold what, 40 cars? That’s 50k per parking space. Just the interest on the 50k would be 2500 per year, let’s call it around 200 per month. 10 bucks a day per car assuming all forty stalls were paid for daily or monthly would cover the interest and the labor to monitor it. Are there 40 people downtown who will pay 300 a month for a parking space at that lot? If not, as a financial proposition the people who made these decisions have squandered taxpayer dollars.

 

 
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