By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
As promised, Baker County commissioners declined Wednesday to order an investigation into county expenditures and business decisions associated with the Pacific Northwest Law Enforcement Training Center.
Fred Warner Jr., candidate for commission chair, had requested an investigation andquot;surrounding all expenditures, fund-raising and business decisions made by the commission and staff regarding the PNWLETC,andquot; as he wrote to commissioners.
But commissioners balked both at the expense of an audit and the scope of the proposed investigation.
andquot;We have a political solution. Some people disagree with the decisions we made,andquot; commissioner Howard Britton said in a prepared statement. andquot;The place to voice that disagreement is at the ballot box. We can't reverse what has been done. We can move forward and work on any partnerships that have been damaged.
andquot;It is clear to me that with the divisiveness we have in the county, we won't accomplish much before Nov. 5th (Election Day). This saddens me, but it is a political reality.andquot; Britton said that if commissioners knew a year ago what they know now that law enforcement training officials in four states were concerned enough about the center to write to State Senator Ted Ferrioli and others that their concerns were not being addressed that different decisions may have been made.
andquot;Hindsight tells us there were some bad choices made on the Center,andquot; Britton said. andquot;Do we need to investigate further? No.... What is there to investigate? What's done is done, and we have suspended expenditures in the Center fund indefinitely.andquot; Commission Chair Brian Cole, who will face Warner in the fall election, said the allegations were politically motivated.
andquot;Mr. Warner and his supporters questioned the integrity of the Baker County Board of Commissioners by calling into question matters of fraud, forgery, misrepresentation, and misuse of public funds. (The) allegations are without merit or substance, and are nothing short of a staged political event to further his personal objectives,andquot; Cole said. andquot;Allegations of fraud and forgery are totally unfounded, and irresponsible.
andquot;Baker County is advancing a series of economic development pursuits, and this project has not hindered in any way these opportunities or others we may pursue in the future.andquot; Commissioner Tim Kerns proposed spending $2,000 for an audit of the more than $200,000 that has been spent in the effort to, in part, secure congressional funding for the training center and research which training programs regional law enforcement departments desire. That motion died for lack of a second.
Kerns then said he would abide with the will of his fellow commissioners to allow the county's annual audit to address the questions raised by Warner and others.
andquot;I could accept doing that if there's some question about getting these figures out,andquot; he said. andquot;We can use our auditor to lay the figures out so they're understandable.andquot; Auditor David Lindley's report is due in mid-October, said acting Baker County Administrative Officer Mark Bennett.
Finance Director Christena Cook told commissioners that the auditor won't deliver an opinion on whether commissioners made proper business decisions.
andquot;They'll just look to see if each payment was proper, coded to the right account and signed by the proper authority,andquot; she said. andquot;Business decisions are more susceptible to interpretation.andquot; andquot;The issues addressed here are not financial,andquot; Randy Guyer, a Warner supporter, told commissioners. andquot;No one is accusing anybody of putting money in their pockets.andquot; None of the commissioners addressed any of the 35 questions Warner posed to them Wednesday in a three-page memo. The questions reached back to the history of the proposed center, from the selection of Minot State University as the lead researcher, to the work of a paid Washington-area lobbyist, to the current status of a long-pending grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
That $200,000 check is awaiting the proper signatures in the U.S. Attorney General's office, Cook told commissioners.
After the session, Guyer said that the county must work to correct andquot;the collateral damageandquot; that's resulted from publicity over the controversy. U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-The Dalles) have made similar public statements.
andquot;We need to fix this,andquot; Guyer said. andquot;There are legislators and granting agents out there scratching their heads over this.andquot; Warner said he's prepared to wait until Election Day to settle the matter.
andquot;It's something that the commissioners should look at, but on Nov. 5 the people of Baker County will have to decide the issue,andquot; he said. andquot;I think the commissioners are just too close to the issue.andquot;