Klickitat County Public Works has terminated a public works reimbursable work agreement with the Centerville Grange after a reporter looking into the matter questioned the legality of a County agency performing work for a private entity.
County Commissioners approved the reimbursable work agreement between Klickitat County Public Works and the Centerville Grange on Oct. 1 “for the purpose of preparing the already existing Centerville Grange parking lot for paving,” read an Oct. 1 agenda entry. The agreement, prepared by staff at the direction of County Public Works Director Gordon Kelsey, had an effective term of five years from the date of execution and could have included such things as snow removal.
Kelsey told The Enterprise on Oct. 18 the Road Department “placed a few loads of crushed rock and graded the parking lot” at a cost of “just under $5,000.”
Kelsey later said on Oct. 21 under follow-up questioning, “Public Works was contacted by members of the Centerville Grange to fix a drainage problem at the intersection of Centerville Highway and Dalles Mountain Road. When Public Works responded to the complaint they explained that they received a financial appropriation from the State of Washingtonto make improvements to their parking lot. They wanted to make sure the County fixed the drainage issue in road right of way prior to paving their parking lot. Subsequent to that meeting they asked us to give them a bid to grade their parking lot prior to paving and we did. We were aware that they had contacted private contractors for bids.”
Kelsey said he was un-aware of any other Public Works reimbursable agreements with private organizations. By way of contrast, the Public Works Depart-ment can contract with public agencies, such as the City of White Salmon Streets Department, to perform work such as chip-sealing of streets, but only on a reimbursable basis.
County Prosecuting Attorney David Quesnel suggested on Oct. 15, when contacted by email about the Centerville Grange matter, that the agreement got ap-proved through a series of honest mistakes, a compounding of failures in oversight.
“My understanding is that the County parties involved in this contract had assumed the Grange was a public agency and therefore could be covered under a reimbursable public works agreement. My deputy that reviewed the contract was also not aware the Grange is a private entity,” Quesnel said, and added, “[I]t is ap-parent a breakdown occur-red on several levels from Public Works, my office, and the Board of County Com-missioners. The situation has been identified as an instructive training opportunity and I am confident it will not be repeated.”
Public agencies generally are not permitted to perform work for or lend public credit to private entities, per the State’s Gift of Public Funds Doctrine. Restrictions are enshrined in the Washington State Constitution in Article 8, Section 7, Credit Not To Be Loaned: “No county, city, town or other municipal corporation shall hereafter give any money, or property, or loan its money, or credit to or in aid of any individual, association, company or corporation, except for the necessary support of the poor and infirm, or become directly or indirectly the owner of any stock in or bonds of any association, company or corporation.”
Quesnel opined on Oct. 18, “This event does not constitute a violation of the prohibition on gifting contained in Article 8 Section 7 [of the State Constitution]. There is no donative intent as required to be a violation of the anti-gifting prohibition.”