On January 5, 2011 the editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser appeared before Judge John Behnke, and accused 4th District Mendocino County Supervisor Kendall Smith of padding her expense account to the tune of over $3,000. The disheveled and rambling Anderson, who mistakenly referred to the defendants as plaintiffs in the courtroom, provided no evidence to back up his claims. Never the brightest bulb in the journalistic drawer, Anderson was ultimately told that small claims court is not the proper venue to go after a corrupt county supervisor.
The legal action, which wasted hundreds of dollars of taxpayer money for a judge, bailiff, clerk and secretaries, was based on allegations that during her tenure as a supervisor since 2006, Supervisor Smith had overcharged the county $3,087 for travel expenses.
To do her job, it was regularly required that Supervisor Smith stay overnight in the inland town of Ukiah, where county business is conducted. The Board of Supervisors meets twice a month, and it’s a tough 3-hour round-trip ride to the Supervisors’ chambers from her home in the coastal town of Fort Bragg. In the wild winters of Mendocino County, this trip over steep and treacherous mountain roads can be difficult, if not outright dangerous.
Sometimes, meetings and business required her to stay over-night. Smith claimed that starting in January 2006 when she took office, she was reimbursed at the rate $46.17 per trip for travel back and forth to Ukiah - even on days she did not make the drive home. She claimed that she was coached by a former supervisor that it was OK to charge the mileage reimbursement as a minimum per diem fee for overnight lodging in Ukiah. She also claimed there was no legal mechanism for her to clearly and honestly charge for the overnight lodging at its actual rate. According to Smith, county policy is that she is entitled to the 46.17 mileage reimbursement fee, regardless of whether or not she actually makes the trip, if it’s charged towards lodging during “back to back” two-day meetings.
So the real skinny is: she apparently loosely charged for travel expenses, even if she stayed overnight at a friend’s house, and applied the mileage fee to pay her friend a hundred bucks a month to stay in a spare room. So, in lieu of making the three-hour drive, at times she paid her friend $100 a month to rent a room, and used car-mileage fees from the county as rental payments, all without keeping any receipts whatsoever. Make sense? Well, this is Bruce Anderson’s latest grand-conspiracy theory.
The 3K over five years works out to about 50 bucks a month - a fact that seems lost on the bald and blunt Mr. Anderson. At the rate of $46.17 per seventy-mile round-trip, that would not even have paid Smith to trudge over the hill to Ukiah for a single BOS meeting! And to properly represent the 4th District, a supervisor needs to spend more than just a couple of days a month in the county seat of Ukiah.
Whether or not Supervisor Smith was morally or legally correct to charge mileage reimbursements for a room she was renting in Ukiah is not for me to say. But, the lax way that county supervisors charge expenses does not say much for the conduct and ethics we should demand of our representatives, nor does it bode well for the rich possibilities of real corruption and wrongdoing, where real issues of money, power and intrigue are concerned, in a county laced with illegal drugs, greedy speculation, and sheer, unbelievable stupidity.
Obviously, the Board of Supervisors need to clean up their act. According to Smith, Supervisors have been coached, coming into office, to charge for lodging against the minimum mileage fee, if staying in Ukiah for these “back to back” days of meetings. The county policy makes no provision to cover overnight expenses, except to charge it at the same rate as the mileage fee. This policy needs to be changed.
But coastal representatives should not be required to appear to lie in the eyes of stupid and yellow newspaper owners, in order to safely and effectively do their job.
It would seem that $100 a month for a supervisor’s accommodations in Ukiah would be a bargain. A hundred bucks barely covers two-nights stay at a motel, nor two trips over the hill - the bare minimum it would take for the 4th District Supervisor to do her job.
In the real world, Mendocino County Supervisors make a generous $68,000 a year, a good deal more than the supervisors in any of our neighboring counties in Northern California. Supervisor Smith had no need to appear to chisel a few hundred extra bucks from the county budget. Apparently, when other supervisors were caught with their hands in the till over this same issue, they sheepishly returned the money.
But if anything, in the real world, Supervisor Smith might be commended for reducing her carbon footprint, and staying over in Ukiah when circumstances demanded it, instead of wasting the time and fuel to drive over the hill. She was following standard county policy for the Fourth District supervisor, to charge travel expenses against the cost of lodging in our expansive county, and did so without fraudulent intent.
Instead of going after a county representative with this sort of petty, nickel-nosing stab at exposing corruption, county taxpayers should demand that the idiotic Bruce Anderson find a new cause to believe in, now that the Giants have won the Series, and get his rich nephew to reimburse us for flaying a dead horse in small-claims court.