The Curry County Board of Commissioners last week rejected a suggestion by Administrator Clark Schroeder to add $5,000 to the board’s travel budget to get them through the end of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.
“It is unrealistic and unworkable to not have any commissioner’s travel until June 30, given the expected budget shortfall after the AOC (Association of Oregon Counties) conference (next week),” Schroeder said.
The commissioners have a travel policy that limits each to $1,500 for travel expenses for the year. Its creation was instigated after former Commissioner David Brock Smith spent several thousand dollars in mileage, lodging, and meals to attend out-of-county meetings and discuss issues with legislators in Salem.
County Commissioner Court Boice, too, overspent last year’s travel budget, he says by driving extensively throughout the county to attend Chetco Bar Fire meetings and assist with coordinating activities for victims. The commission is suing him in small claims court to recoup that money.
Last fiscal year’s travel expenses were $9,983, Schroeder said.
“I serve on the AOCC (Association of O&C Counties) board of directors — that’s how we got $1.7 m in PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) money,” Boice said. “SOD is a huge one, new forest management and public land policy changes with with Oregon Department of Forestry — when they had the Lobster Creek Fire, who do you think they called?”
Last year, Boice attended meetings of the Coos Curry Douglas Business Development Corp., Oregon Coast Community Action, Southwest Oregon Transportation Commission, Southern Oregon Workers Investment Board, Curry Public Transit, South Coast Development Council, Oregon State Parks, and city councils, port and fair boards. Many were in his own vehicle.
Boice was busy during the Chetco Bar Fire, meeting with Gov. Kate Brown three times and Sens. Merkley and Wyden twice and their staffs on numerous occasions.
He said he traveled to Brookings almost every day from Aug. 17 to mid-November, attending more than 70 meetings with the Burned Area Emergency Resource team, the forest service, Bureau of Land Management, FEMA, the city of Brookings, the state Department of Forestry and fire marshal, the sheriff’s office, state police, Coos Forest Protective Association, five fire commanders and the National Guard, all daily fire briefings, community meetings and press conferences.
He met with many of the same parties during this year’s 175,258-acre Klondike Fire.
It’s those meetings that have put the board on track to overspend its travel budget again.
Schroeder said in a regular meeting this week that actual expenses between July 1 and Sept. 30 are $2,924, and the estimated cost to send Boice and commissioner-elect Chris Paasch to the AOC conference will add another $1,800 to that.
Commissioner Sue Gold maintains she has never seen any of Boice’s travel receipts; he said Wednesday his mileage record is available through the county road department, which notes the beginning and ending mileage of vehicles employees use. He also has said he regularly submits credit card and other receipts for miscellaneous expenses and has charged the travel budget for only four meals in two years.
Gold initially said she could be amenable to Schroeder’s proposal.
“My biggest concern about travel is the accountability issue,” she said. “Mileage, motels, receipts. I don’t have a problem approving something like this as long as there’s accountability.”
Huxley sternly countered: “You are effectively caving and rewarding the disdain and arrogance on part of Commissioner Boice through the budget process,” he said. “The total disregard for his behavior; I will not be part of that.”
Boice retorted, saying, “It gets back to the description of the job and Commissioner Huxley’s ignorance of what and why I travel. You either have to trust I’m doing county-responsible travel, as efficiently as I can, or you don’t. I have charged four meals in two years on the county, I took a $20,000 pay cut, and you won’t help the citizens.”
When asked if he was willing to be accountable and turn in travel-related documentation, Boice said that upon the advice of counsel, he would not say anything further.
“Then I can’t approve this,” Gold said.
Boice said Thursday the county will suffer if commissioners can’t travel to attend regional meetings and discuss issues of local importance with legislators in Salem, among other duties.
“This is what I signed up for,” Boice said. “I spend a lot of time with other commissioners in other counties, and it’s incredibly helpful. I would not give up one minute of the time I’ve spent in Salem with the Oregon Department of Forestry; it’s been very valuable. There’s a lot going on — critical stuff — especially with the full legislative session coming up. To be beaten over the head with this nonstop is unacceptable. The county suffers.”
Commissioners approved his and Paasch’s expenses for the upcoming conference in Florence, expected to cost $1,800 — and leaving the county commissioner’s travel budget $224 in the red.
“I know I’m doing what I have to do,” Boice said. “No one could have traveled more efficiently than I have. I have the choice to either ignore the policy or know what my responsibilities are to do my job.”
Schroeder said “any finality to this issue would be a misnomer,” noting the situation could change dramatically when Paasch is sworn in Jan. 7.
In the meantime, Boice and the county go to circuit court Nov. 27 to address a citation issued to him for driving out of the county and using a county vehicle without permission from the board, both violations of the travel policy, which was spearheaded by Huxley last year.
Boice also faces a Coos County judge here when the county attempts to recoup $5,200 he spent in 2018.
“The question is,” Schroeder said, “is this something they want to involve themselves in, or do they see it as political theater and they don’t want to get involved? They could kick it out and (tell the county to) deal with it; then there’s no action — and the (travel) ordinance is meaningless. If you can’t enforce it, what good is it?
And there won’t be any more traveling unless changes are made to the budget to pay for it, either, he said.
“The question is, will the next board change the travel ordinance and the budget?” he said. “It’s an evolving issue.”