Page 2 of 2 Previous
Lehrke said she saw postings on Facebook calling her purchase of the property into question. “I just don’t understand what I should have done,” she said. “Had I waited to put in the offer after the vote, that would have been shady.”
Other commissioners said that they saw no conflict of interest but that they recognized that some people would perceive it that way.
“I don’t think this can be viewed as any insider knowledge,” Gary Kriesel said.
Fran Miron said that because elected officials operate in the public realm, information about the long-term financial benefits of the Newport development were available to anyone, not just commissioners.
“The thing so many people forget about all of us is that we are residents of the county, we do business within the county and we pay taxes in the county,” said Miron, a Hugo dairy farmer. “It’s hard to separate sometimes what we do with the county and what we do with our own jobs.”
But Jen Peterson, a Cottage Grove City Council Member who has monitored the transit station project, disagreed, saying Lehrke is “going to have to decide whether she’s a county commissioner or a property owner.”
“There were other votes that she was involved in and there will be more votes that will take place in the future, and if she has to continuously recuse herself from votes that will affect her district, I have a problem with that,” Peterson said. “I just think the infrastructure and road work that will happen in that area to accommodate the traffic, Commissioner Lehrke will have to vote on some of those things. And if she can’t, then she really isn’t representing the district.”
‘A reason to stop’ in Newport
George Kuprian, who heads the civil division at the Washington County attorney’s office, said Lehrke had asked him whether she should abstain from voting on the transit center.
“We basically told her there’s a possibility of an accusation later on about it,” he said. “That’s why I took the question seriously. Problems could arise if she voted in favor of it.”
Kuprian said the law doesn’t clearly establish a conflict of interest in her purchase of the bar. However, he acknowledged that she could profit from its eventual sale.
“She felt there’s a real likelihood that a bar will benefit from a transit station,” he said.
Lehrke said she hasn’t purchased a commercial property since she was elected to the County Board in 2010. She and her husband also own rental property in the county.
She said that she would consult with the county attorney’s office on any subsequent votes and that Opinion Brewery would be good for Newport.
“This is just what they’ve been waiting for, a young entrepreneur to come in and get rid of some of the blight,” she said. “If anything, people are now going to have a reason to stop in Newport.”
She denied that she and her husband bought the bar to gain financially from commuter traffic.
“People that go to that park-and-ride lot are going to be leaving Newport,” she said. “There’s nothing there.”