After a discussion on what has become a heated issue, Clatsop County Commissioner Lianne Thompson will be reimbursed for travel and other expenses she has incurred so far this year, though she may have to pay her own way on some future trips.
Thompson has claimed $3,640 in expenses in the first three months of the fiscal year, which began in July. Under the county budget, the five commissioners are allowed a combined $17,500 for the year.
Thompson has been criticized repeatedly by commissioners for claiming nearly $20,000 in travel and education expenses since 2015.
At an October meeting, Scott Lee, the board’s chairman, placed an item on Wednesday’s agenda centered on whether many of Thompson’s expenses should be approved and to discuss how to manage expenses for the remainder of the year.
“As the commission chair, it is my responsibility to ensure that my fellow commissioners adhere to the policies established by them and for them,” Lee wrote Thompson in a Nov. 1 letter. “Unfortunately my efforts in this regard have been met with hostility from you in the past. As a result I have been remiss in not enforcing the travel policy more stringently but must insist that, in the future, all Clatsop County commissioners follow this policy until it is changed or amended by a majority of the commissioners.”
Lee also referenced limitations placed on commissioners, who are volunteers under the county charter.
“At no time will the board engage in travel that will result in costs beyond what is provided for in the current year budget unless the travel is specifically approved by the board and additional resources are authorized pursuant to Oregon Budget Law,” the board’s travel policy, which was revised in 2014, reads.
Thompson responded by insisting that her trips to conferences and training are attempts to build relationships and bring resources to the county. It was also part of an ongoing effort to spur other commissioners to develop specific long-term goals.
“I’m not interested in inflating anybody’s budget,” Thompson said. “This is to do work, this isn’t out partying. I believe in budgets, but I also believe in a plan.”
But Commissioner Sarah Nebeker questioned the value of the trips.
“I can’t seem to measure anything that you have done that would make a difference other than what staff already does,” Nebeker said. “We have an overall budget, and I think we need to adhere to it.”
The discussion came after infighting between Thompson and other commissioners. In October, Lee urged Thompson to resign due to the expense issue, as well as an incident in June in which she placed her hands on a county employee. Thompson has fiercely resisted Lee’s call to resign and affirmed her desire to remain on the board.
As commissioners spoke Wednesday, a spectator repeatedly held up a sign that said “resign” on one side and “censure” on another to express his displeasure with Thompson. Thompson briefly stopped her remarks and asked Lee to call the meeting to order. The chairman obliged, instructing the man to put the sign away.
The scene reflected an attempt at civility, and it was not the only one.
During Wednesday’s discussion, Thompson repeatedly offered to pay for her own travel expenses, an idea that Lee said was a good potential solution.
In September, an investigation into the incident involving Thompson touching a county staffer revealed she claimed to be “the only commissioner who worked.” Pressed by Nebeker on the statement Wednesday, Thompson clarified she was referring to her efforts on housing issues rather than condemning commissioners’ work ethic in general. Nebeker thanked her for the explanation.
“I would like us to call it a truce,” Commissioner Kathleen Sullivan said. “I really would like to move forward in a positive way, so I hope we can do that.”