By Thomas Huxley

This forum is in response to Curry Coastal Pilot articles published June 27, “Boice facing paying back travel expenses” and June 30, 2018 “Boice to challenge travel policy.”

The travel policy for Curry County Board of Commissioners and elected officials was first adopted Aug. 2, 2017 — Order No. 20438. Minor revisions were added Nov. 1, 2017 (Order 20466) to include the county administrator position.

These orders may be downloaded from the county website at http://www.co.curry.or.us class="Apple-converted-space"> From the Quick Links tab at the top right of the page choose “Commissioners’ Journal.” Click “Advanced Search.” In “Reference Number” type 20466. Click “Find.”

The travel expenses in question are in the 2017/2018 adopted budget appropriations for the commissioners’ fund — materials and services expenditure category.

The budget committee consists of the three county commissioners and an equal number of citizens at large. Each member has an equal vote.

On May 25, 2017 after meeting for seven days, the budget committee approved the 2017/2018 budget; $8,524 was appropriated for commissioners’ materials and services of which about half was for conference fees, travel, meals, vehicles, mileage allowance, etc.

After the first 10 months of the 2017/2018 fiscal year, expenditures by Court Boice alone exceeded the entire appropriation amount.

1) Both news articles reported “The new travel policy limits each commissioner to $1,500 in travel expenses a year – none of which can be incurred in Curry County.”

The travel policy states: Board review and approval of cumulative travel expenses that exceed $1,500 for any commissioner is required before county funds may be spent…”

After Boice significantly exceeded the $1,500 limit, commissioners Gold and Huxley each allowed Boice to use their $1,500 limit.

2) Both news articles reported “It (travel policy) does not reimburse commissioners for travel expenses related to attending ‘commissioner college,…’ Of those on the current board, only Boice has attended commissioner college.”

The travel policy has no mention of such expenses or limitations.

Early 2017, Boice submitted receipts from January and February 2017 totaling about $900 for attending commissioner college and was promptly reimbursed.

3) Both news articles reported Boice saying “he spent about $8,000 in travel expenses related to the fire. Of that, $5,000 was out-of-pocket; the remainder he charged to the county,”

No itemized receipts supporting such unfounded claims have ever been submitted to the county.

4) Both news articles reported “The travel policy also set a per diem of $42 a day for out-of-county meals, and requires advance board approval — and three quotes and a detailed plan — for estimated hotel, car rental and meal expenses for extended trips.”

What the travel policy actually states is that after travel expenditures of a commissioner exceed $1,500 in a fiscal year, further spending requires board approval. “Three quotes are not required when the vendor is on a county or state-approved vendor list and the charge is at the county or state-approved list rate.”

The travel policy also states the board may, but is not required to consider factors described in “Out-of-State Travel.”

Much of the out-of-county travel policy language was taken from Article 30 of the existing Curry County Personnel Rules regarding travel regulations, allowable expenses and reimbursement rates. These personnel rules do not apply to elected officials.

5) Boice is quoted (relating to his travel expenses) in the last paragraph of the June 30 article stating “I’m not going to be subjected to the other two commissioners constraining me.”

In closing, Oregon Budget Law is very precise and clear with respect to the appropriation of spending authority and, exceeding those appropriated limits:

“It is illegal to overspend an appropriation. ORS 294.456(6) states that when appropriations have been made, ‘an expenditure or encumbrance if encumbrance accounting is used, of public money may not be made for any purpose in an amount greater than the amount appropriated.’”

The penalties for unlawful spending of public money are established by ORS 294.100, which states, “It is unlawful for any public official to expend any money in excess of the amounts, or for any other or different purpose than provided by law.’ The public official ‘shall be civilly liable for the return of the money by suit of the district attorney of the district where the offense is committed, or at the suit of any taxpayer of such district, if the expenditure constitutes malfeasance in office or willful or wanton neglect of duty.’”

Source: Oregon Department of Revenue – Local Budgeting Manual 150-504-420 (Rev. 05-12)

Limits and penalties associated with appropriations (page 57).

No one, not even Boice, is above the law.

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Thomas Huxley is a Curry County commissioner.

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