Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, April 19 @ 4:18 p.m.
Curry Commissioners Dredge Up Conflict of Interest, Over-Payment Concerns With Fisheries Consultant
Though Steve Beyerlin tried to make the case that his advocacy work is essential given the decline in Rogue River spring-run chinook, Curry County’s newest commissioners seemed reluctant to renew his company’s expired contract.
Commissioners Jay Trost and Brad Alcorn -- along with Ted Fitzgerald, the county’s interim director of operations -- took issue with Curry County being the only one contributing financially to a coalition Beyerlin’s firm, Oregon Strong LLC, spearheads.
Trost said that though the contract Curry County entered into with Beyerlin in 2019 was for $5,000 annually, the county overpaid him by $1,000.
Meanwhile, Alcorn said former commissioners shouldn’t have approved the contract in the first place due to a conflict of interest involving Court Boice.
“In 2016, you helped Commissioner Boice with his campaign and you were compensated $1,550 for that. And then in 2018, Commissioner Boice was involved in litigation with the county and during that litigation you helped him defend his position with the county and you submitted invoices with Mr. Boice and the total invoices were about $1,800,” Alcorn told Beyerlin. “On April 17, 2019 this contract came before the Board of Commissioners and Mr. Boice properly declared there was a conflict — he had a relationship with you and he was conflicted in voting. However, after that, Mr. Boice did vote on the contract. If Commissioner Boice wouldn’t have voted, you wouldn’t have gotten the contract.”
The Board of Commissioners and Fitzgerald urged Beyerlin to approach community leaders in other counties such as Josephine and Jackson. Fitzgerald pointed out that if Beyerlin went to a harbor district meeting, “it’s full of fishermen.”
“It doesn’t seem like the county should be the one funding this when we should be a partner,” Fitzgerald said Wednesday. “We can partner. We can coordinate and help to the extent we can, but I think a lot of other people are benefitting. I think these people should be brought into the coalition and (you should) make them put their money where their mouth is.”
Oregon Strong is a private organization focusing on natural resource projects.
Beyerlin entered into a contract with Curry County to work with state and federal officials as well as other counties to mitigate the impact Lost Creek Dam in Jackson County has had on Rogue River fisheries. The Curry County Board of Commissioners extended that contract in September 2019 and again in April 2021, however it expired about a year ago, according to Fitzgerald
“I noticed it had expired and so I had stopped paying and that caused him to want to make a presentation,” Fitzgerald told the Wild Rivers Outpost. “With the financial situation with the county when I see payments going out that are not backed up by current contracts, I’m pretty hesitant to pay them.”
According to Beyerlin, the “coalition of interested parties” includes Josephine County, the Coquille Tribe, the Oregon Anglers Association, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Sen. Jeff Merkely.
Coos County is also part of that coalition and pays for a lobbyist, Ray Bucheger, of FBB Federal Relations. Bucheger acts as liaison between Oregon Strong LLC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built the Cole Rivers Fish Hatchery in 1973.
That hatchery raises chinook, coho, steelhead and rainbow trout to mitigate the effects the of Lost Creek, Applegate and Elk Creek dams.
“We were getting zero dollars for the hatchery repairs and maintenance. Nothing was happening until Curry County stepped in under my leadership,” Beyerlin told commissioners. “We received what’s going to be about $7 million with the latest earmarks that are in the (federal) budget and that isn’t the final for this year ‘cause there’s more with infrastructure investment adn stuff. We’re going to be able to get money from that too probably. I wouldn’t be surprised if we pick up another $1 to $2 million.”
Beyerlin asked commissioners to consider whether Oregon Strong’s progress on advocating for fisheries and obtaining federal funding to make repairs to the Cole Rivers Fish Hatchery has been acceptable. He also asked commissioners to think about the future.
“It’s a small amount of money that helps us keep going,” Beyerlin said. “I pay for all my own fuel, my own internet and the costs involved and we’re given $5,000 a year from the county, which I don’t believe you had to go through the budget process, which I divided into $500 a month. It is helpful. We’ve just done a heck of a lot and it’s just very important to continue the process.”
Though he praised Beyerlin’s work, Trost said he felt the parting question in the consultant’s presentation — “Are we satisfied with your service or do we not like fish?” — was inappropriate. Trost also pointed out that if Beyerlin had been receiving $500 a month from Curry County the county had been paying him an extra $1,000 annually.
According to Fitzgerald, who said he found the original contract for $5,000 that was renewed twice, the county paid overpaid him “somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,000” based on the contract.
Beyerlin said he had initially asked for $750 a month instead of $500, however the funding wasn’t in the county budget. He said he’d also discuss the situation with one of the Curry County commissioners, either Chris Paasch or Court Boice.
“The contract (with Curry) was never really ever workable,” Beyerlin said. “One of the things required was an insurance bond, or insurance, that came to $2,000 a year out of the $5,000. I came back to the commissioners and talked about that and they said they would bypass it; not to worry about it. But I haven’t got any paperwork other than having talked to commissioners about it. And all of our reports they told me were going on our website and would be available.”
Alcorn told Beyerlin that he couldn’t support renewing his contract. According to Alcorn, Curry County hasn’t received quarterly reports from the consultant. However, Alcorn said, Beyerlin’s original contract shouldn’t have been approved because Boice had a conflict of interest and should have recused himself from the vote.
Boice voted in favor of the extension to Beyerlin’s contract in September 2019 and again in April 2021, according to Alcorn. Alcorn added that several people brought that situation up to him when he was running for office.
“It gives the appearance that you’ve been treated favorably and that you were compensated inappropriately,” he told Beyerlin. “Again, this was an example that was given to me as to why people lack trust in county leadership, so when I look at these facts, it’s concerning.”
Beyerlin said the work he did for Boice, which included compiling a “shopping bag full of receipts” into an Excel document, has nothing to do with his fisheries work. Beyerlin said he would have done the same work for any other commissioner if they had asked him.
“For the type of money we’re talking about, I don’t take disrespect or abuse and I try not to give it to you,” Beyerlin told Alcorn. “I don’t think that’s what you’re doing but I refuse to accept it. How would I know what Court voted on? I attend two to three commissioner meetings a year. I’m not appraised of what you talk about privately or in executive session. I have no control over that.”
Board Chairman John Herzog, however, praised Beyerlin’s integrity and said he supports his work.
“If in fact this commission says there is no new contract, I will personally take you to the Cole Rivers Fish Hatchery and pay for the fuel myself,” Herzog told Beyerlin. “Local fish counts are part of our economic development in our strategic plan and I know your heart and dedication to this. I will support you every way. I make that commitment to you and I would never in any way question your integrity.”