Curry County is taking Court to court — and the county commissioner is fine with that.
Noting that he had only been employed with the county for six weeks, County Administrator Clark Schroeder said in a commissioner board meeting Wednesday that he was in the awkward spot of recommending the board allow him to hire an attorney to take Commissioner Court Boice to small claims court to recoup money Boice spent traveling during the Chetco Bar Fire last summer.
“It brings me no pleasure to come before you to enforce this action against Commissioner Boice,” he told the board. “This is an awkward position I’ve been put in.”
The county maintains Boice overspent his allotted travel expenses for last fiscal year and violated the travel policy by driving a county vehicle in the county.
Boice acknowledges that — and continues to drive a county vehicle in Curry County — but notes most of the travel was to address the Chetco Bar Fire, coordinating people and food drops and evaluating the fire as it lapped at the edges of Brookings.
Schroeder cited two other options the board could pursue, including sending a demand letter and filing a complaint in circuit court, or issuing fines and getting a debt collection agency to collect the money.
“A fourth option would be to let this thing go, and bury it in the deepest sea based on the rational use of money,” Boice said. “I have gone to all three of you asking about options.”
Boice said he spent about $2,000 of his own money and used the county per diem of $42 a day — about $5,000 — during the Chetco Bar Fire. He believes the emergent nature of the incident justifies the expenses and is willing to fight for the principle in court, he said.
“I’m representing this county,” Boice said. “Does this board want me to forego this travel? I’m not going to pay back the money when I put in a substantial amount of my own money to do what I told the citizens of Curry County I would do.”
Veterans advocate Connie Hunter was allowed to speak after much grumbling between her and the board, and noted many veterans in the Brookings area appreciated the work Boice did during the fire.
“They knew who was the nuts and bolts to make sure everything worked well,” Hunter said. “The citizens of south Curry County expect a government official to demonstrate leadership and show up.”
Commissioner Sue Gold said she listened in on a couple of the fire briefings last summer; Commissioner Thomas Huxley was nowhere to be found, Boice and others have noted.
Citizen David Barnes of Gold Beach also defended Boice, noting when the fire at Lobster Creek Youth Camp started three weeks ago, firefighters attacked it immediately and aggressively. He attributed it to the Boice’s efforts all winter to bring attention to what many say was a lackadaisical response to the Chetco Bar Fire when it was small.
“They had 750 firefighters on the ground, six air support, and contained that fire to 397 acres,” Barnes said. “Because of that man sitting next to you. (Travel expenses) are a small price to pay for (his work).
“You want a fourth option?” he continued. “Table this like you did Huxley’s violation of the rules of decorum and put this behind us.”
“Serve the greater good,” Hunter muttered as she left.
“I’m not going to take it,” Boice said angrily. “I’m anxious to go to court. I’ve already won in the court of public opinion. I’m doing what I said I would before the election. I’ll take the heat.”
Gold reminded Boice that she and Huxley both contributed their $1,500 travel allotment to him during the fire.
“I am not going to give you kudos for the $3,000,” Boice said. “You know I’m traveling and doing your job as well. That’s what the people thought they were getting when they elected you to be a full-time commissioner.”
Boice also read a memo he’d written, lambasting Huxley’s attacks on him and demanding his resignation.
“His efforts to condemn my travel expenses on county business serve only to emphasize his own lack of ethics in the service of the people of this county, especially in a time of crisis,” Boice said. “While I was traveling to Brookings nearly every day as our citizens were threatened by a devastating wildfire, he was nowhere to be found.”
Boice has repeatedly noted he has tried to work with Huxley, to no avail.
“Each day, more of our citizens — the people we promised to serve — are seeing the damage he has done and continues to do to our communities. It is my 24/7 commitment to help our county overcome, repair and recover from the destruction wrought by his incompetence and executive malfeasance.
“The fact that he only has another six months in his term cannot excuse or rationalize his parting shots and continuing chaos,” Boice continued. “More destruction is something we can ill afford.”
When asked for comment regarding those allegations, Huxley wrote in an email to the Pilot, “Commissioner Boice did not provide copies of the memo to the other two commissioners or submit the memo he read into the record so the memo could be read and responded to accordingly. If this memo is provided to commissioners in the future I will respond as appropriate.”
Reach Jane Stebbins at email@example.com .