Submitted by the Board of Stevens County Commissioners
Wes McCart, Chair
Steve Parker, Vice Chair
Many public reports have been made over recent weeks regarding the decisions we, as County Commissioners, have made in the utilization of our Homeless fund. The most recent was the final report issued by the State Auditor’s office. Now that this report has been finalized, we feel it is important to share the facts as we know them to the people of Stevens County and beyond.
As commissioners, we are tasked with many duties, primary among them is the wise and proper use of taxpayer monies. Our guiding philosophy is to spend conservatively in the hope that we do not unnecessarily burden taxpayers, realizing that as a general rule government does not have an income problem, it has a spending problem. That philosophy can be upsetting to some people when they ask for money and are denied and the Homeless Fund is emblematic of this.
We have been a very hard working Board of County Commissioners, in the office almost daily, to be accessible and involved. This is appreciated by many. We have based our decisions on what we truly believe to be a benefit to the people of the county first and foremost. Our decisions regarding spending from the Homeless Fund is no exception. Please remember that this money comes entirely from inside Stevens County. The State, by law, has required a fee to be levied on every document recorded in the county and that is the entire source of the Homeless Fund. It can only be spent to aid someone who is already homeless gain access to a home or to prevent someone with a home from becoming homeless.
When the commissioners were first informed by our Prosecuting Attorney Tim Rasmussen that a whistle blower complaint had been lodged regarding our decision to assist a family whose home had been severely damaged due to unprecedented flooding along the Kettle River, we were surprised. Prior to making our decision, we reviewed the law and our plan and believed that our decision was in compliance with both. There was no question that our support would benefit the family but also the county would benefit. Under the scrutiny of the State Auditor, they felt that it could be allowed but did not find a detailed enough process in our Homeless Plan. The office recommended that we add more detail to our procedure. We agree with that and will be doing so this year.
Our decision to aid this family was made in a open, public meeting and processed through all the appropriate channels, including review by the County Auditor, Tim Gray. Mr. Gray recalls reviewing the request for funds and approving it. Some months later, we were the subject of an anonymous whistle blower complaint to the State Auditor. This came at the same time that the election season was actively underway.
One of the duties assigned to the county prosecuting attorney is to provide legal guidance to the various county officials, primary among them are the county commissioners. Mr. Rasmussen gave verbal indication to us that he would work with the commissioners to find the simple solution to this charge by sitting down with us and we welcomed that. Instead of meeting together to examine the facts, laws and rules governing the Homeless Fund, each commissioner was given a letter indicating we could be guilty of felony charges and we would not be allowed to speak further to the prosecutor or staff concerning the matter. This left us with no guidance, no help and the intimation that we should hire private attorney services to defend our actions and avoid potential conviction, jail time and financial penalty. Things were suddenly very complicated.
We commissioners are being threatened for two things: helping one family rescue their home which could not be occupied and perhaps fallen into the Kettle River, and helping a Kettle Falls charitable foundation build a home to house and train people with upper spinal cord injuries so they may live independently. We are proud of both decisions and the results. The State Auditor has assured us that these decisions can be made, but only when our plan has more detail. We will do this. Mr. Rasmussen believes that these actions must be punished and threatens to sue us, and we disagree with his decision. We believe it can only damage the strength of the county and our ability to work together for the good of the people. Many others agree with us.
The motivation of our local elected county prosecutor is a mystery to this board and very troubling. It becomes especially so in light of his failed attempt to aid the previous County Auditor, Tim Gray, transfer check totaling almost $30,000 from the IRS to Stevens County into a personal account. This was done on the last working Friday before the new year with inadequate documentation. The commissioners had never been notified, but Mr. Rasmussen engineered and approved of this. The State Auditor does not. We have denied this payment until we have proof positive that the amount is valid and rightfully belongs to Mr. Gray. He has stated he was using personal funds to pay for penalties levied against his office in an attempt to avoid public scrutiny during his failed re-election bid.
That action could have been handled much more simply by coming to the commission body with the truth and allow us to conduct a diligent review of the matter before a claim was submitted. The situation regarding our lawful decisions with the Homeless Fund could have likewise been handled in a simple and straightforward manner by working together in a cooperative manner. Instead we have been required to spend excess hours and dollars in our commissioner’s office, the auditor and treasurer offices and how much of the Prosecutor’s budget has been spent in this manner. This entire situation has raised significant question on the ethical conduct on the part of Mr. Rasmussen in the conduct of his elected duties. When coupled with his conduct toward the District Court, his own staff and others, we must ask: Does Mr. Rasmussen represent the best interests and legal requirements of the county as he suggests, or is he woefully inadequate in his judgment and values?