Curry County Commissioner Thomas Huxley has some serious questions about the way union negotiations concluded before a tentative agreement was reached Aug. 17.
County employees who belong to the Service Employees International Union 503 — 17 people in the clerk’s, assessor’s, finance, facilities maintenance and building and planning departments — were set to strike Aug. 20 over disagreements with the county regarding pay and health insurance.
They settled their differences the Friday before the scheduled Monday strike.
Huxley, however, maintained in an email he sent to County Administrator Clark Schroeder and Attorney John Huttl that Schroeder violated public meeting laws by “acting as an intermediary (and) creating a quorum” when he allegedly relayed messages to Huxley from the other two commissioners regarding those negotiations.
According to his email, commissioners agreed in executive session to offer the union $50 per employee toward their health insurance benefits.
But Huxley was talking with Huttl Aug. 16 when Schroeder allegedly interrupted their meeting to say he had “spoken with the other two commissioners regarding SEIU members’ reaction to the offer Schroeder was authorized to present to them, and SEIU had countered with $100 a month per employee.”
Huttl said it was inappropriate to discuss any conversations Schroeder had with other commissioners, and Huxley said that any discussions regarding changes in negotiations should require another executive session meeting. Huttl then suggested the union put its counter-offer in writing.
“So, is this how it works?” Huxley wrote. “You go back to SEIU and ask they put their counter-offer in writing and fortuitously convey to them that two of the three members of the governing body are OK with this new increased amount?”
Schroeder said late last month he has no comment on Huxley’s allegations.
Two hours later, Huxley said, he received an email titled “corrected worksheet” from Schroeder, of a “grave error” he’d made during the Aug. 15 executive session. “As a percentage increase, it changes from the 3.6 percent we agreed to yesterday, to a 5.2 percent increase,” the email read.
“The recommended increase was understated by more than 25 percent,” Huxley wrote. “After realizing your ‘grave error,’ you acted as an intermediary and created a quorum by conveying the error to the other two commissioners and receiving their approval to proceed with the increased percentages.”
When Schroeder announced the union and county had come to a tentative agreement, Huxley then backed out of all future SEIU meetings, he said.
Gold Beach resident David Barnes, who has criticized Huxley’s actions in the past, asked the commissioner Wednesday if he intended to pursue the allegations with “as much zeal” as Huxley has against Commissioner Court Boice, who violated the county’s travel policy last summer.
Huxley declined to respond. Nor did he respond Friday to an inquiry from the Pilot asking if he had comment regarding Barnes’ comments.
Boice used — and continues to use — a county-owned vehicle to attend fire briefings and other meetings in violation of part of the policy banning in-county travel.
“Please answer,” Barnes said to Huxley. “You make allegations of misconduct and failure to properly perform against the county administrator. I believe those allegations are terminable and if so, would qualify him from collecting (severance pay). Do you plan to pursue this … as you did with Commissioner Boice and the travel policy, or are you just throwing things out there?”
Huxley responded by saying he wasn’t going to answer any of Barnes’ questions, as that is not the purpose of the public comment portions of meetings.
“You’re here to serve the public, I’m the public, and I want answers,” Barnes said, to silence. “Hellow? I’m talking to you.”
Gold noted that as commissioners, they do not have to respond to questions asked in public comments.
“Thank God there’s only four months left,” Barnes said as he left, referring to the remaining time in Huxley’s term. “And Mr. Schroeder, your mathematical error was more than that, but (this response) is nothing less than I expected.”