Couple slam Woodland council candidate over unpaid debt

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Former Woodland Fire Chief Anthony Brentin is seeking a permanent home on the city’s council this fall. But a couple who rented to Brentin earlier this year, and then sued him for non-payment, says Brentin’s inability to manage his personal finances is proof he should not be entrusted with a city’s checkbook.

Brentin owes Shana and Brandan Stroh more than $4,600, according to a Cowlitz County Superior Court judge’s ruling in July. Brentin has not paid the couple any money since then, but promises he will as soon as he is financially able.

The couple says if Brentin were serious about paying them back he would not have taken vacations to Puerto Rico and Maui after he and his wife, Shari, were evicted in January. Brentin defends the trips, noting Primerica, the company he and his wife work for, paid for the Puerto Rico trip and they traveled to Maui for his daughter’s wedding.

Public vs. private money

Woodland voters will ultimately determine whether Brentin gets the opportunity to manage their struggling city’s finances. He is running against retired aircraft mechanic Marshall Allen in the Nov. 8 general election. Allen edged Brentin by one vote in the primary election. They are running for a seat vacated by former councilman Aaron Christopherson.

Woodland residents should be skeptical of Brentin, Brandan Stroh said.

“If he’s not doing the best for an individual, how’s he going to do the best for an entire city?” Stroh said.

Brentin rejected suggestions his inability to manage his personal finances meant he would struggle to manage Woodland’s. He said he managed public money better during his time as Woodland’s fire chief from September 2004 to January 2009 than his personal finances, explaining that’s “what they’re paying me to do.”

The Brentins began renting from the couple in December 2010. The Strohs were forced to rent out their house in Woodland after receiving a job transfer to Southern Oregon. Brandan and Shana Stroh are both in the Oregon Air National Guard.

The Brentins agreed to rent the three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home for $1,400 per month. However, they did not pay December or January’s rent, and were evicted. Brentin’s $2,000 security deposit check also bounced, said Paul Van Baalen, a property manager for The SunWorld Group.

Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Gary Bashor ordered the Brentins to pay the Strohs $3,241 in unpaid rent, utilities and other costs, plus $1,439 in attorney fees and other costs. Van Baalen is entitled to 8.5 percent of the money the Strohs receive. The judgment will accrue 12 percent interest per year until it is paid in full, the judge ruled.

“We got behind in rent because of a personal financial situation,” Brentin said, declining to divulge further details. He added, “It’s my intention and plan to make it right as soon as I possibly can.”

Van Baalen dismissed Brentin’s suggestion he had made any plans to pay the money back.

Irked by vacations

Among the things that irritates the Strohs the most about the Brentins’ non-payment is the vacations they took after their eviction.

“It makes you mad because we’re struggling to make ends meet and he’s going on vacation with our money,” Brandan Stroh said.

Brentin and his wife traveled to Puerto Rico in February. The trip was paid for by a company they did business with, he said, but declined to say the business’s name when asked, explaining he did not want “anything I’m doing to reflect on the company.”

Only when asked specifically if the business was Primerica, a company that teaches families “how money works,” did he acknowledge for whom he worked.

The Woodland Chamber of Commerce had no record of the business’s existence nor did the city of Woodland have a license on record for the business, whose address is 1230-D Lewis River Road in Woodland.

The city of Woodland sent the business a letter in July seeking to learn whether it was still operating at the address, city Clerk Mari Ripp said.

Asked about the letter, Brentin did not recall receiving it at his office. He said he had a license with the Washington Insurance Commission but not the city of Woodland.

Businesses operating for profit inside the city must pay $60 per year for a business license, Ripp said. The penalty for not having such a license is generally $6 per calendar month, although it could potentially lead to a $100-per-day fine and five days in jail in rare circumstances, she added.

Brentin’s council opponent, Allen, declined comment for this story, saying he did not want to win office by bad-mouthing his opponent.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.