Curry County Commissioner Chair Tom Huxley gaveled a citizen to silence, had the recording of the Wednesday meeting abruptly shut off and called a five-minute recess after discussion became argumentative when two items were pulled off the day’s agenda.
The two items were put on the agenda by Commissioner Court Boice, who wanted to address Huxley’s alleged misconduct in violation of the county’s rules of decorum that Huxley himself crafted this year.
Huxley and Commissioner Sue Gold voted to table the items; Boice said he was blindsided by their action.
The first agenda item, unusual in its own right, but initiated by Gold Beach resident David Barnes, alleges that Huxley violates parts of the “Rule of Decorum and Meetings” policy.
Although the items were no longer on the agenda, Boice gave Barnes the floor, but Huxley demanded he stop speaking. Eventually, Barnes sat down.
“Unless you’re a member of the Harbor fringe, you shall be silenced,” Boice said to the room, which was filled to overflowing with citizens there to discuss another item. “Silence; you shall be silenced. Meeting after meeting.”
The “Harbor fringe” refers to Huxley’s supporters and friends, Boice said.
Huxley did not respond to the Pilot’s emails or phone messages for comment, but had County Administrator John Hitt contact the Pilot.
He said that during the same meeting, commissioners approved a revision in how items are placed on the agenda, giving that responsibility to him.
He added that agenda items should address important items of business, policy formation, or for him to seek guidance from the board on an issue.
Prior to that revision, commissioners could put any item on the agenda on a routing slip and email it to the board.
“That was the only requirement,” Hitt said, adding that he didn’t think it was a particularly wise policy. “Some items put on the agenda here aren’t really appropriate. I’ve said to all three commissioners, they have the commissioner comment period at the end of the meeting. That’s the time to bring up things that should’ve been on the agenda, a future agenda or general items for discussion or to allow additional public input. Or put them up for a workshop. We don’t want to do workshops with a lot of venting, but if it’s a discussion that’s not quite ripe to take action, a workshop could be another venue for that concern.”
That revision, however, didn’t occur until the latter half of the meeting, so Barnes, with Boice’s prodding, got to have his say.
In a written statement he started to read and later obtained by the Pilot, Barnes said that for the past 14 to 16 months it has been standard procedure (for commissioners) to reply to comments made by the public and formally announce the closure of the public comment section of the meeting at its conclusion.
“The precedent having been set and followed for so long, this standard must be considered to be board policy,” he wrote.
But on Oct. 18, “Huxley broke from these policies and improperly called a recess to stifle conversation on a matter brought up by a member of the public,” he wrote.
“Without asking or waiting for his fellow commissioners to reply … and without declaring the public comment portion of the meeting closed, Huxley declared a lunch recess,” Barnes continued in his complaint. “Boice immediately protested and attempted to engage Gold in conversation … conversation that was talked over and shut down by Huxley.”
The meeting was reopened after lunch, and “Huxley attempted to move to the next agenda item without hearing commissioner replies on (my) comment,” Barnes continued. “(I) arose from the audience to protest and was joined by Commissioner Boice, who wished to discuss the matter … After a moment of argument, Chair Huxley struck his gavel and called a five-minute recess with the threat of adjournment as Commissioner Boice attempted to speak again.”
Barnes maintains that Huxley violated the county rule that says striking the gavel and recessing the meeting is only justified when someone is “making a loud or disruptive noise or … such conduct results in the actual disruption of county business.”
He said Huxley’s actions abandon the longstanding policy and were “void of professionalism and courteous behavior commanded by the Rules of Decorum,” and that in doing so, Huxley displays “a lack of respect for (Barnes), who raised a valid concern that deserved a response.”
When Boice tried to give his fellow commissioners updates during the height of the Chetco Bar Fire, Huxley routinely cut him off, called for a recess and ordered the recording turned off.
“In my opinion, Commissioner Huxley is out of control in his conduct,” Boice wrote in an email to the Pilot. “Specifically, (his) silencing opposition, seizing control and the general nature of what appear to be his political decisions. History shows him to have serious difficulty handling disagreements.
“Mr. Huxley has routinely sent unnecessary personal insults at me: “You’re clueless!,’ ‘Grow up!’ and ‘Why don’t you be quiet!,’” Boice wrote. “Members of the public have consistently and strongly called him out on these and other similar comments. He has used the gavel on me now on me five times — to try to silence a fellow commissioner.
“I still have not been told why those items were taking off the agenda,” Boice said. “There was no appeal, no warning, no reason.”
The second item pulled from the agenda came from Boice himself, who said he is not pleased that the commissioner’s office door is closed and locked during business hours.
The door was typically locked during the tenure of the last board, as well, but Boice said it gives the appearance the commissioners aren’t available to the public.
“We don’t have any security issues,” he said. “Of all the county buildings, why is the commissioners inaccessible? It ticks me off.”
Huxley and Gold, on a 2-1 vote, opted earlier this year to make the commissioner jobs part-time positions. Huxley has always taken a $10,000 stipend instead of the commissioner salary of about $65,800 plus benefits — which itself got him in a brouhaha with the union and county’s health insurance company. Boice agreed to reduce his salary to $40,000 to help save the county money, but insists on working full-time.
Boice is also frustrated that in the 10 months this board has been seated, very little has been accomplished. He has tried to craft ways to garner funds for the fiscally-strapped county and tried to engage Huxley and Gold regarding recovery from the Chetco Bar Fire, all to no avail.
“They were upset because I had three former commissioners and (Brooking City Manager) Gary Milliman to work on the possibility of a consumption tax; none of them were willing to support it. I’m not supporting it, but we need funds. I never thought I’d see this level of dysfunction. Nothing gets done.”
The board has spent much of its first 10 months in office revising office policies, paperwork that places issues on the agenda, rules and decorum and travel policies and other administrative duties, some of which are brought back to the board for further changes.