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Taxpayers to give Smith, Ludlow some legal help

Clackamas County Commissioners reached an agreement Tuesday, Aug. 19, to pay $10,000 of commissioners John Ludlow and Tootie Smith’s combined $22,953 in legal fees, but not without tempers flaring.

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

Smith was absent during the intervening board meetings that day, which she later revealed was because she was talking with her lawyer about how to recover the remaining legal fees from commissioners Bernard, Paul Savas and Martha Schrader personally. When asked if she still planned to pursue legal action after the vote, Smith declined to comment.

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, a lobbyist, 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.

(Read more: http://www.pamplinmedia.com/pt/9-news/224423-85824-report-commissioners-distressing-remarks-not-workplace-discrimination)

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

Commissioners Bernard, Savas and Schrader initially appeared to be willing to let the matter die on technical grounds, often remaining silent when asked to put forward a motion or a second.

“This is totally political, ladies and gentlemen,” Ludlow said, warning his fellow commissioners that refusing to reimburse any of the costs would have ramifications in “everything we do.”

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

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

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

Savas — who was reimbursed $7,318.69 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 to the board.

“I think there was ample time to come forward with the ask,” Savas said. “Otherwise it becomes a blank check with no parameters and that concerns me.”

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 it was 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."


Timing of request under attack

A major point of contention during the discussions of whether or not to reimburse Commissioners John Ludlow and Tootie Smith for their legal fees revolved around the timing of their requests.

In 2006, the Clackamas Board of County Commissioners agreed to reimburse county personnel for legal representation under certain conditions.

The order outlines a process in which a request is submitted to the County Administrator, who consults with County Counsel, and forwards the request to the board.

“Any such request must be submitted by the official or employee at the earliest opportunity, and prior to the employee or official making any arrangement for representation or incurring any cost or payment obligation,” states the board order signed May 25, 2006 by former county Chair Bill Kennemer.

Administrator Don Krupp said he received notification from Ludlow and Smith on May 6 that they would be retaining counsel to defend themselves against employee Jared Anderson’s complaint and the resulting investigation. Krupp said because of the nature of the itemized bills, the full accounting was not available to present to the board until Aug. 13.

Bernard and Savas argued that, during their own separate requests for reimbursement in 2012, they had come to the board much earlier in the process.

“It’s a request that I think is set in policy that was not adhered to and honestly I’ve been waiting for this request for a long time,” Bernard said.

Ludlow’s and Smith’s requests came to the board 106 days later, after the costs had already been incurred.

However, Ludlow discovered during a break that former County Administrator Steve Wheeler appeared to have paid legal bills for Savas with no prior notification to the board. County officials are still searching through board minutes to find possible references to the payments.

“I’m not on trial here, Mr. Ludlow,” Savas said when pressed to come up with details of the events of 2012.

“Well, neither am I, sir,” Ludlow responded. “I’m trying to get you to pay a legitimate bill that was incurred because I was told I had to go out (to get legal counsel)."

Savas also challenged the bills as not relating to county business, as many of Ludlow’s alleged remarks occurred in social situations.

"Are you suggesting, Chair, that these fees were incurred, or this situation was incurred, in proper performance of a commissioner?”

"Absolutely.”

"That’s where we disagree.”


By Shasta Kearns Moore
Reporter
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