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County board wrestles with legal funding

Update: Commissioners agree to pay $10,000 on legal bills totaling $22,953


Tempers flared Tuesday, Aug. 19, during discussions of whether or not the county should reimburse commissioners John Ludlow and Tootie Smith for legal fees.

“I’ll tell you that my heart’s beating like 50 miles per hour,” Commissioner Jim Bernard said during the electric discussion.

Ludlow reported incurring a total of $7,846 from two different law firms in his defense during an investigation into an April 22 complaint by former county employee Jared Anderson. Anderson left the county June 2 after a firestorm involving allegations that Ludlow and Smith created a hostile work environment, discriminated against him on the basis of age, sexuality and violated his right to privacy.

For legal fees during the same investigation, Smith is requesting $15,107.

County Administrator Don Krupp said he recommends the commissioners approve the requests because the investigation found that although insensitive or inappropriate comments were made, they did not rise to the level of breaking the law.

“If the independent investigator had arrived a different conclusion ... I would not be making this recommendation,” Krupp said.

County Counsel Stephen Madkour defended Ludlow and Smith’s delay in submitting the request after the case instead of before, stating that the nature of the complaint required swift action.

Smith’s motion to approve Ludlow’s request died without a second.

Savas, who said he was reimbursed $5,300 for two separate instances in 2012 regarding the Trolley Trail, said he was surprised that the request was coming more than three months after the initial retention of counsel with no prior request.

“Otherwise it becomes a blank check with no parameters and that concerns me,” Savas said.

His motion to approve $1,500 died without a second.

“You can’t even burp at a lawyer for $1,500,” Smith said.

Bernard’s first motion to approve $5,000 died without a second, but later approved 3-1 for each Ludlow and Smith, with Savas voting no each time. Bernard was reimbursed $5,000 during an ethics commission complaint in 2012.

Commissioner Martha Schrader was tight-lipped about her views until an afternoon discussion during which she stated a desire to reimburse part of the legal fees, even though she said she would be spending a lot of political capital to do so.

"I will tell you that I will get a tremendous amount of backlash on this," Schrader said.

"So it is political," Ludlow said.

"John," Schrader responded, "everything we do is political. That's why we're elected officials."

Watch for complete coverage in next Tuesday’s Portland Tribune.


By Shasta Kearns Moore
Reporter
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