The Curry County Board of Commissioners special meeting on April 22 continues to be the talk of the county.
People have described the meeting as “embarrassing,” “disheartening,” and “hard to watch.”
The agenda for the special meeting seemed standard for the times. Nearly all of it was centered around COVID-19 and reopening the county. All three commissioners agreed the county needed to start reopening and were in favor, 3-0, of staff bringing back a proposal that would lift the ban on transient lodging to tourists at their meeting on April 29.
About two hours into the three-plus hour meeting it became personal as allegations of meddling, lying, conspiring, and improper use of county equipment surfaced. The discussion came during the portion of the meeting titled “Elected Official and Department Head Roles in an Emergency.”
Most of it was centered on Commissioner Court Boice and his interactions with fellow commissioners and county staff. Some county employees are fed up with his antics and prepared to leave.
Director of County Operations Julie Schmelzer informed the board on April 17 that if something doesn’t change her last day of employment was going to be July 1.
“It is with a heavy heart I am informing you of my intent to cease employment with Curry County,” Schmelzer wrote in an email to the commissioners. “I absolutely love my job but cannot work in an organization full of deceit and direct efforts to undermine the Board and staff. In the past month, I have witnessed some very distasteful behavior by some of our elected officials, and do not want to be a part of it. We have spent the last two years regaining the public’s trust, only to have it eroded in one month. Unless there are ethical changes, my last day of employment will be July 1.”
Commissioner Chris Paasch said during the second half of the contentious April 22 meeting that three other people had contacted him and were “thinking of resigning.” Rather than have these people leave, Paasch felt it was time to see if the board could clear the air. Paasch did not say this was directly related to the actions of Boice but the implication was clear.
“We do have a letter of resignation based on some unsubstantiated assumptions, negative responses that you had and we definitely need to address those. I’m tired of being falsely accused,” Boice said.
Usually, these types of discussions take place behind closed doors in executive sessions, Paasch explained.
Paasch said they had talked in executive sessions but felt this was something that needed to be brought to an open session, especially since Boice was OK with it.
Over the next hour, some questionable actions of Boice were voiced.
“...but are we to hang notes on commissioner’s doors discussing how, what a bad job they’ve done or to go into peoples’ offices or stand in hallways and have arguments with people about the way they are doing their job and how it shouldn’t be done. And you (referring to Boice) even said in a meeting last week that you might be the emergency services guy here but if we have another fire in the county then get the hell out of my way,” Paasch said.
Boice didn’t deny it. He did, however, correct Paasch, saying, “I never used profanity Mr. Chair.”
When asked if Boice thought it was proper to hang the note on Commissioner Sue Gold’s door Boice said, “It was long overdue. And I’ll stand by the things that were communicated in that letter.”
The letter Paasch referred to was dated March 11 and opens and concludes with Boice first requesting and then asking “Sue Gold to immediately resign.” It also includes eight highlighted items where Boice points out his disagreement with Gold on issues and what he considers her past failures.
Among the items listed, Boice claims Gold only works a maximum of 20 hours per week and that she led the lawsuits against the citizens and Commissioner Boice in 2018.
Boice stated in the letter that he would be “working extremely hard” to get one of the two candidates running against Gold elected.
As far as run-ins with county staff in their office or the hallways, Boice said he did meet someone in the hallway because he got a nasty look and that was after he was summoned to Curry County Emergency Management Coordinator Jeremy Dumire’s office and “I took some verbal abuse and I walked away.”
Paasch, thinking he was referring to the Dumire hallway incident, said Curry County Sheriff John Ward told him that he had to break up the incident in the hallway with Boice.
“No that was a different incident,” Boice said.
Later when Paasch asked Boice if he felt his emails to him were proper, Boice said, “Absolutely I do. You accuse me sir of damaging county property and not filing a report.”
Boice repeatedly said there was no proof of him damaging county property. Paasch said Boice took a pickup truck from the Curry County Parks Department and it was damaged while he used it to move his boat to Agness. Paasch said he took photos of the damage. It was not made public when Paasch used the county truck to move his boat.
“Absolute hogwash, he made that up,” Boice said referring to the damage to the rear of the truck. “I needed a vehicle after I wore my vehicles out over the travel issue that I continually dealt with.”
Boice said he paid for the gas in the truck and felt he more than covered the county’s expenses, adding that he was in a bind and needed the truck and implied it was OK for him to do this because he uses his personal vehicles for county work.
Emails between commissioners and the possibility of these violating public meeting laws came up later and this was addressed by Curry County Counsel John Huttl. He explained that specifically, emails between two of the three commissioners can constitute a public meeting.
“And I have told you and will tell you again you should not be emailing each other about county business and that is the bottom line,” Huttl said. “You should be conducting your business in these meetings as much as possible.”
The meeting concluded with the board going into executive session. No reportable action was taken during the closed session.
On Friday, Schmelzer issued the following statement, "The county has accomplished so much this past year, and I really feel the Board has been functioning in a cohesive, respectful manner. With change comes challenges, and we are encountering a lot of pressures right now to do more press releases, form groups, or make controversial purchases, which sometimes leads to members going off on their own instead of acting as a Board. It is understandable in that we have three very passionate commissioners who just want to help. Part of my job though is to make sure we don’t get in trouble with the state by not following their orders, or send the wrong messages to the public, or jeopardize our resources, or do something on their own that can be perceived as representative of the Board.
“I think anyone that knows me or has worked with me knows I am dedicated to Curry County — I have put my life on hold to try and help ‘fix’ the mess where I consider the most beautiful place in America. But sometimes one has to stop and ask themselves why? Why keep trying if others aren’t willing to do their part, be a team, or try to help keep us out of trouble? Sometimes I do feel politics and agendas undermine the good work being done in government. My ‘intent to resign email’ said just that, ‘unless things change, I am moving on’. I am optimistic the Board of Commissioners will put the emotionally charged meeting behind them and will continue to do the best they can, as a team, for Curry County,” Schmelzer stated.
The special meeting can viewed here.