Clatsop County Commissioner Lianne Thompson is resisting a call for her resignation, vowing to be a strong and motivated voice and declaring: “My heart is in this place.”
Board Chairman Scott Lee urged Thompson to resign after a meeting last week in which she was criticized by commissioners for claiming thousands in travel and education expenses, as well as for a June incident with a county employee that led to an internal investigation.
“I have little interest or patience with those few people who would find validation in power or who like to see themselves as big fish in small ponds,” Thompson, who represents South County, wrote in a letter to The Daily Astorian.
“No one said it would be easy to serve,” she said. “No one promised that a closed system would be open to change, that entrenched powers would not push back, or that personal attacks would never supplant honest debate. Certainly I never expected such a political panacea. To see it play out in real life, however, can either be disheartening or motivating. I choose motivation.”
Before and after the Oct. 25 meeting, commissioners Sarah Nebeker and Lisa Clement, along with Lee, chided Thompson repeatedly. Thompson wrote in the letter that she would address commissioners’ specific complaints against her at the board’s Nov. 8 meeting.
One issue centered on a June incident in which Thompson allegedly placed her hands on a county employee — who has not been named — after a Red Cross meeting at Fort Clatsop. Immediately before that, she said she “was the only commissioner on the board who worked.” After making contact, she allegedly asked in a loud, frustrated tone, “Do you know what he did,” in reference to County Manager Cameron Moore. She continued by claiming Moore intentionally scheduled a meeting in May so she would not be able to attend.
An internal investigation concluded she was acting in her role as commissioner at the time and violated board behavior policy. While the county will not take disciplinary action, Portland-based labor attorney Heather Martin sent a letter to Thompson explaining she may be held personally liable for similar behavior in the future if it leads to a lawsuit against the county.
In a July email to The Daily Astorian about the investigation, Thompson claimed that county staffers feared retaliation if they ever went public about their concerns with county government. In response to the statement, Moore directed County Counsel Heather Reynolds to reach out to Thompson’s lawyer for specific examples. No specifics were provided, Moore said.
Since then, the county has hired Jill Goldsmith of Workplace Solutions Northwest, a Portland mediation service, to investigate the claim and interview county employees. Goldsmith also conducted the investigation into Thompson’s behavior at the Red Cross meeting.
A financial report presented at the meeting detailed Thompson’s $3,640 in claimed expenses since July. The five commissioners are allowed a combined $17,500 for the year in the county budget.
Complaints about her expenses have continuously nagged Thompson since she was sworn in as a commissioner in January 2015. She has claimed nearly $20,000.
Lee directed county staff last week to add an agenda item to the Nov. 8 meeting about expenses. Commissioners will hold a discussion before Lee approves Thompson’s expenses — a power granted to the board chairman. They will also discuss adopting additional policies regarding expenses in the future.
In her letter to the newspaper, Thompson also pointed to an announcement last year from Lee that he would not seek re-election in 2018.
“So, the more important issue at hand is this: the timing is right, or will soon be right, for the board to commit itself to diversity of opinion and for county officials to commit themselves to opening a relatively closed governance process to the fresh air and sunlight of new ideas,” Thompson wrote. “Diversity in our government and on our board is a healthy thing. It is worthwhile, if not imperative, that we work together to express different points of view and that we discuss all paths to common goals.”
Thompson’s term also ends next year.
“She has to run for re-election in May,” Lee said after the Oct. 25 meeting. “That will be up to the voters to decide.”
For now, each commissioner is slated to serve at least 14 more months.
“My heart is in this place,” Thompson wrote. “My commitment and my voice will remain strong.”