Sheriff clears Clallam County administrator of wrongdoing after treasurer levels allegation

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County Sheriff's Office found no evidence that County Administrator Jim Jones broke the law when he told commissioners the county could loan money to the city of Port Angeles, a recent investigation shows.

County Treasurer Selinda Barkhuis alleged June 30 that Jones lied about the county's ability to loan the city $7.75 million for its landfill bluff-stabilization project.

She attempted to “correct any gross misunderstanding the county administrator may have left in the minds of Clallam County taxpayers as to how their taxpayer funds may lawfully be used,” she said in documents given to the commissioners.

The Sheriff's Office last month determined that the county's chief executive did not violate two state statues — false report and making a false or misleading statement to a public servant — when discussing the legality of the loan in a public meeting last September.

The three commissioners ultimately denied the city's request for money to help pay to move a cell of garbage at the city's shuttered landfill that is on the verge of slipping into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“The allegations are unfounded,” Sheriff Bill Benedict told commissioners this week.

“In other words, they don't meet any of the elements for a crime.”

Jones has maintained that the county has the authority to loan money to the city.

“I appreciate the investigation that the Sheriff's Office did,” Jones said Thursday.

“I never had a doubt in my mind that the allegations being made against me were completely false.”

As Barkhuis' board liaison, Commissioner Jim McEntire requested the sheriff's investigation “out of an abundance of caution.”

Barkhuis has publicly lambasted Jones over his management of the county.

Barkhuis, who did not file a criminal complaint against Jones or ask the Sheriff's Office to conduct a criminal investigation, said she intends to submit a report about the loan and other issues to the state Auditor's Office and Attorney General's Office.

“Regardless of the Sheriff's opinion of whether Mr. Jones violated any criminal statutes in this particular instance, my opinion is and continues to be that the County Administrator's management of the County is, as evidenced by a number of articles and reports I have written, grossly lacking in good faith, fiscal integrity, and transparency, and that the County taxpayers deserve way better from the highest paid County employee,” Barkhuis wrote in a Thursday email.

The sheriff's investigation was referred to the county Prosecuting Attorney's Office for review.

Benedict said he referred the report “as a courtesy.”

“There are other allegations that are out there that are beyond the scope or purview of the sheriff's investigation,” Benedict told commissioners Tuesday.

“I don't recommend that we trouble the attorney general with them.”

Commissioners said they would schedule a future work session to discuss the findings of the sheriff's investigation.

McEntire suggested an executive session subsequent to county Prosecuting Attorney William Payne's review of the findings to evaluate Jones' performance as a public employee.

The discussion Tuesday was triggered by Commissioner Mike Doherty's concern about Barkhuis' latest guest column in the Port O Call monthly newspaper.

Barkhuis, who has publicly stated that the county administrator's position is unnecessary, is running unopposed for a second four-year term as county treasurer.

She is one of 41 candidates on the ballot for the 15-member Charter Review Commission.

“I still think we should sit down with the treasurer and work out some of the allegations because I don't think they're going to go away,” Doherty said.

“She requested a meeting way back when, and I think we should have that kind of a meeting to get to the facts on the various allegations.”

In the June 30 board session, Commissioners McEntire and Mike Chapman took no action a 36-page report that Barkhuis prepared that said it would correct Jones' interpretation of a state attorney general's opinion regarding the county's ability to loan money to the city.

They also balked at her request to reconsider a 5 percent pay cut that a non-union-represented employee took in January.

“We can schedule another work session,” Chapman said Tuesday.

“I don't know what she wants me to do.”

The sheriff's investigation led by Chief Criminal Deputy Ron Cameron found that Jones “rendered his understanding of an opinion by the Attorney General that supports his argument [about the legality of the loan].”

“His interpretation may or may not be correct, but it takes away an essential element of any crime suggested to have occurred; that he knowingly misled the commissioners or reported something to them when he knew it was false,” Cameron wrote in the Aug. 18 report.

“With this, I would suggest even finding that the Administrator committed a policy or county code violation would be unlikely as he is simply expressing his interpretation of an opinion.”

Jones said he has prepared extensive documentation to dispute Barkhuis' claims.

He reserved further comment Thursday.

Chapman suggested a mediator to resolve the dispute between the county officials.

“We've got a failure at the leadership level of the county,” Chapman said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 04. 2014 7:58PM
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