Unless he’s directed otherwise, Curry County Administrator Clark Schroeder plans to hire a law firm to take County Commissioner Court Boice to small claims court to get reimbursement for travel expense overages he accumulated during the Chetco Bar Fire.
The issue will be discussed at today’s (July 18) regular county commissioner meeting.
Boice used a county vehicle during the wildfire last summer to coordinate volunteers and get information disseminated to the public. He has since used a county vehicle to attend other events related to county issues. All, however, violate the county’s travel policy banning using a vehicle for travel within Curry County, Schroeder said.
Boice has defended his use of the county vehicle in county and his over-spending of the $1,500 he is allotted for travel during the year, saying travel is necessary — particularly during a natural disaster such as the 191,125-acre Chetco Bar Fire — to address issues of county concern.
Boice said he’s offered “two or three times” to pay the county back.
“And I was ignored,” he said. “Now they want to sue me? It doesn’t make any sense. I’m just really disappointed. It’s a ridiculous, unnecessary distraction. It’s embarrassing.”
Boice figures if he foregoes the $42 per diem on food permitted under the travel policy — about $5,000 a year — and he’s spent $2,200 out-of-pocket on travel-related expenses, he’s should be about even.
In his report to the board, the administrator said Boice continues to violate the travel policy by using a county-owned vehicle for in-county travel and that he needs to reimburse the county for the money he overspent last fiscal year.
Schroeder believes Boice exceeded the travel budget for last year by $4,000 to $6,000; he won’t know the exact figure until any outstanding credit card statements or expense receipts are submitted.
Boice said he did not use the county credit card in June.
Schroeder proposed three options commissioners could pursue, including taking the issue to small claims court, filing a complaint in circuit court or issuing fines or filing a debt collection action to recoup the money.
Filing a small claims complaint would be the least expensive, he said in a report to the board. And he intends to hire attorneys Dunn Carney Allen Higgins & Tongue of Portland.
“Outcomes in small claims court have the greatest variability in results, as attorneys are not used,” he wrote. “In this case, a law firm would advise, but would not be in court.”
Dunn Carney charges $200 an hour for paralegal assistance and $315 for attorneys.
Schroeder estimates hiring the firm would cost the county $1,000 to $2,000 — and officials at the firm told him the county would likely not be reimbursed for that.
The county budgeted $5,000 in non-departmental legal fees and $20,000 in professional services that could pay for its cost of a claim. Schroeder reminded the board, however, that an attorney is currently being paid from those coffers as the county negotiates union contracts in court, as well. If, between the two, the budget is exceeded, commissioners will need to approve a supplemental budget item, he noted.
A second option could be to send a demand letter and file a complaint in circuit court, Schroeder noted.
“Since this collection is less than $50,000, the file would be sent to mandatory, non-binding arbitration by the court,” he said. “After this, either party could request going to trial. This process might take six to nine months and the estimated cost in the multiple tens of thousands of dollars.”
A third option would be to use a debt collection agency to recoup the money. The county would issue citations Boice could challenge in circuit court, Schroeder said.
“This process would be like a traffic ticket, where lawyers are not used and the court makes a decision based on what the parties testify to,” he said. “This action would address the continued use of county vehicles against county policy.”
That option, too, would cost an estimated $1,000 to $2,000.
“I’ve already paid enough,” Boice said. “They have three options, and I’ll take my chances on any of them. I may prevail, and they’ll have to pay my attorney fees as well. They just want to poke me in the eye. I’m not going to stand for it anymore.”