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Commissioner Chilcott’s expenses: a fact check

 

By Michael Howell

Disturbed by a political advertisement placed by his opposition in the upcoming election for County Commissioner District 2 that “appears like a news article,” County Commissioner Greg Chilcott has asked the Bitterroot Star to “print the facts.” Chilcott claims that the ad, placed by Dave Smith for County Commissioner, is false and misleading.

“The implications are as false as the numbers in the ad,” said Chilcott.

Chilcott said that he did contact the Commissioner of Political Practices office to register a complaint. But he also noted that the office was traditionally ineffective because investigations generally took as much as a year to complete, too late for any effective remedy during the elections. In fact, the situation is even worse now that the legislature, in its last session, took away any enforcement powers from the office following claims that the office was controlled by the governor and was making “politically based” decisions.

The ad Chilcott is complaining about states:

“Chilcott tops $10,000 for travel expenses in 8 months

Figures taken from Ravalli County Commissioners’ expense reports show $10,119.54 spent by Chilcott January through August of 2011. Receipts include reimbursement for commuting to work and hotels and airfare to Tampa Florida, Washington D.C., Oregon and Washington states.

Meanwhile, Commissioners have slashed 26 County positions to balance the budget.”

Firstly, Chilcott claims that there is no such thing as a County Commissioner’s expense report.

“I wonder where they got their information?” he asks.

Big Dave Smith’s campaign director Marci Mansfield Smith was glad to share the claims submitted to the county for reimbursement by Chilcott covering the period from January 1, 2011 to August 30, 2011. They do indeed show travel expenses totaling over $10,000 for that period. Expense reports obtained by the Bitterroot Star from the county finance office corroborate those numbers.

The ad goes on to state that the receipts “include reimbursement for commuting to work and hotels and airfare to Tampa Florida, Washington D.C., Oregon and Washington states.”

Reimbursement receipts from the county show that Chilcott was reimbursed $3,103.67 for travel to and from work during that eight-month period. Chilcott claims that the reimbursement is required by law and that he cannot decline it. Others have claimed that the law merely requires that commissioners be reimbursed in an equal manner, but that it does not prevent the commissioners, as a board, from refusing the money. Chilcott admits that some counties in the state do not reimburse commissioners for the cost of commuting to work.

Regarding the reimbursements for travel expenses including airfare, lodging and meals, Chilcott denies that he took a trip to Tampa, Florida during the time period in question. The record is in his favor. It appears that the inclusion of Tampa, Florida, was an error based upon an entry in the claims that referred to the headquarters of the bank that handles the county’s credit card. However, claims submitted for reimbursement do show $6,011.54, in combined expenses, including airfare, meals, lodging, and registration fees (add cell phone charges and it would be more) for travel that included three out-of-state trips: a National Association of Counties conference in Portland, Oregon, a Montana Association of Counties conference in Washington D.C. and one in Wenatchee, Washington during that time period.

Add these travel expenses, $6,011.54, to the regular mileage in commuting to work over the eight-month period, $3,194.07, and you get a total of $9,205.61. A little less than the amount claimed in the ad.

Chilcott wants to distinguish between expenses that were borne by county taxpayers out of the general fund and those related to MACo and NACo affairs. Chilcott shows his reimbursements from the county for the eight-month period to be a total of $703.87 He claims that the other expenses were reimbursed by NACo and MACo and should not be counted as an expense to county taxpayers. Many of the charges were in fact reimbursed by those organizations.

Smith says, “Read the ad. It says taxpayers footed the bill and that’s true.” Smith points out that MACo and NACo are both taxpayer-supported organizations. “The bottom line is that taxpayers did indeed fund Chilcott’s travel junkets,” said Smith.

Chilcott also complains about the ad’s claim that commissioners slashed 26 positions to balance the budget. He refers to a county-produced spreadsheet that shows only 22 positions were eliminated. It shows that 14.175 Full Time Equivalent positions were eliminated that eliminated 17 employee jobs, while another 4.3 FTEs were eliminated through attrition which meant five vacant positions were not filled.

Smith’s information source was a September 16, 2012 newspaper article published in the Missoulian stating that 26 positions had been eliminated.

Actual falsehoods in the ad as assessed by this reporter: No trip to Tampa, Florida. Only 22 positions eliminated in the budget cut rather than the 26 claimed. The total estimate of the travel expenses was close, depending on what expenses were counted.

Who paid? The taxpayer – one way or another. Either through the county general fund or through county organizations such as MACo and NACo, which are taxpayer-supported organizations.

11 Responses to Commissioner Chilcott’s expenses: a fact check
  1. Bill LaCroix
    November 2, 2012 | 5:06 pm

    to “Miss Me Yet”:
    That’s Ms. Mansfield, or Marci, sir or madam, just like she was courageous enough to identify her comments from, unlike yourself. You display the tactics of an insecure bully to be flinging such deroggatory comments around at 4 am. Is that how you meant to come across? Apologies are in order from you and yours before civil dialogue can continue, n’est pas?

  2. Bill LaCroix
    November 2, 2012 | 3:43 am

    John and Mort and all, past commissions were never so far out on the right-wing fringe that they actually acted out draconian cuts into workers’ wellbeing, like this one has been. And the expense account is just one example of how this commission–with Chilcott front and center–has treated taxpayers in this county. It’s not, in my opinion, good value on tax dollars to promote Celebrating Conservatism/ militia extremism on the public dime at the expense of all other constituents. Reasonable people disagreeing? I’ll agree to that as soon as Chilcott et al apologizes for accusing everyone to the left of Attilla the Hun (which may include you two?) of being UN dupes trying to send self-described “patriots” off to labor camps in Seattle. Until then it’s quite simple: you’re a commissioner, you make $50,000+ (plus health insurance!) on the public dime and you lay off at least 27 people (Michael didn’t count the Juvenile Detention Center)who have to feed their families cuz you actively promote animosity toward the very BIGBADGUBMIT you work for, then you forgo your gas money or you’re a hypocrite and unworthy to serve this county. How many of you have had per deum you didn’t claim because you knew your employer couldn’t really afford it? Because you actually LIKED your employer? Please, anybody out there in the void, just ask yourself the simple question: who would you rather have looking at you from the other side of the commissioners’ desk for the next four years if you have a problem with one of the many developers Chilcott et al have been “making good” with these last two years? Quite simple I think.

  3. Miss Me Yet?
    November 2, 2012 | 3:37 am

    I believe I will not sit here and put up with the tripe from the Mansfield lady. It absolutely was a Progressive Liberal Democrat push to go from 3 commissioners to 5. The study commission was headed by the worst of the bunch. I had extended conversations with the man. He personally admitted to me that the whole point was to get “liberals” on the board to squeeze out the existing Republicans. And those new Democrat commissioners spent like drunken sailors!

    Regarding the ballot measure to decrease the board from 5 to 3: Guess who was among the commissioners who pushed for the 3! Chilcott.

    Mansfield lady, you must be wholly Democrat. Therefore, the notion of overspending by government should appeal to you. Just don’t accuse Chilcott of acting like one of you and you’ll be fine.

  4. John
    November 1, 2012 | 7:20 pm

    Marci, you make the statement ” Their uniform rejection of these hand-outs could have saved a job or two when they ‘balanced’ the budget.”, however, it was the Democratic party that pushed for 5 Commissions. How many jobs could have been saved if we still had 3. Talk about hypocritical. Those are salaries that we, the tax payers, have to pay for. How is that fair to the tax payer?

    I believe that if you were to do your homework, you would see that the county tax payers benefit from the involvement and representation that Commission Chilcott has with MaCo and NaCo. These organizations bring tax dollars to the county, which decreases the cost to us tax payers. So before you make your accusations, you need to find the total dollar amount that the county has benefited because of this representation.

    You state that tax payer dollars are going to Commission Chilcott for unneeded expenses, however, we don’t need two extra commissioners that take taxpayer dollars either.

    Also, there are other commissions that receive travel expenses, but you don’t condemn them for it. There was a democratic commission that served in the term before that also accepted these reimbursements, but he was never accused of anything.

    If you are going to make such accusations about one commissioner, then it’s only fair to bring it all to light for every commission!

    • Marci Mansfield
      November 1, 2012 | 9:29 pm

      John,
      It was NOT the Democratic party that pushed for five Commissioners. Commission numbers were increased from three to five in 2007 after a local government study commission put the issue before ALL the voters of Ravalli County.

      The current Commission had the opportunity to allow voters to decide if the five-member board should be cut to three this election, however they deadlocked on this ballot measure.

      To Mr. Craptauer,
      In response to your comment “Smith doesn’t speak or debate in public”…There were indeed candidate debates held by the Chamber of Commerce. In Hamilton and Florence. Also, Dave and Greg spent and hour and a half on radio taking calls in a debate format.

  5. Mort Craptauer
    November 1, 2012 | 11:50 am

    The way I figure it is this: if Smith calls to question the travel expenses and out-of-office time of a sitting commissioner, he has no clue what he’s trying to get himself into. Smith! This is not a roofing business and you are not a commissioner. Do you plan to win the election then go into the office and sit there everyday answering the phone and soothing the public? If a commissioner is not out there campaigning for the county and fighting for the county’s interests, then that person is not fit for the job. Smith has proved that he is not fit for the job of commissioner. I know this because he is hiding from the real issues by attacking his opponent over such frivolous issues. Time out of office and travel expenses??? It doesn’t matter what the numbers are. Chilcott has brought more dollars into this county and sweated more for this county than you can imagine. He has been doing his job as a commissioner. I’ve heard Smith’s campaign speeches and debates and I… wait, no I haven’t. Smith doesn’t speak or debate in public. He just runs cute little attack adds that rely on distortion of anything that he thinks might work. Howell, you should be ashamed of yourself.

  6. Marci Mansfield
    November 1, 2012 | 4:21 am

    Ms. Perkins, as the creator of this ad, I’d like to reply directly to your question “how does the general public know what is the truth when it comes to expenses?” Generally, they don’t. It takes time and effort to uncover these figures. Something not afforded the average person.

    Consequently, I felt it important that the public be informed about the thousands of dollars spent throughout the year on Commissioners’ mileage reimbursements and travel expenses. While there were a few errors in the total figure (these expense accounts are difficult to translate at times), the fact-checking article above bears out the information is basically correct—-in direct opposition to your accusation of false-hood.

    Since you have experience with the Commission, I trust you know full well that MACo and NACo are funded by taxpayer dollars. Mine, yours and the citizens of Montana and the United States of America. When these organizations ‘reimburse’ the county, they’re doing so with TAXPAYER dollars. And while I believe MACo and NACo serve a beneficial purpose to strengthen and educate County governments, we haven’t received much bang for our bucks in Ravalli County. Witness the tens of thousands of County dollars paid out in lawsuits. Many of which were from violations of rudimentary County policy.

    Considering all five Commissioners stand firmly on the platform of smaller government, I find it hypocritical that they accept taxpayer/government hand-outs in the form of being paid to commute to work. Their uniform rejection of these hand-outs could have saved a job or two when they ‘balanced’ the budget.

    When you refer to false-hood, I think Mr. Chilcott claiming a mere $703 in expenses is a perfect example of this charge. The facts prove in this 8 month period his expenses totaled more than 13 times this amount!!

    I only wish I’d had the time to dig through 10 years of records. I venture to guess the figures would be staggering.

  7. Orion
    November 1, 2012 | 1:14 am

    Thanks Beth, I know you know what you’re talking about. While I have a high regard for Michael Howell as an investigative journalist, he (like most of us), has a political slant (which for the most part I agree with). Don’t know what the answer is – I guess we all have to decide for ourselves – knowing that few of us us will ever know the whole truth.

    • Marci Mansfield
      November 1, 2012 | 9:45 pm

      Orion,

      I would love it if people really would decide for themselves! Here is a link to the expense accounts. It’s a zip file with approximately 30 megs of pdf files. Please note most pdf’s contain multiple pages:

      https://dl.dropbox.com/u/39674828/Chilcott.pdf.zip

  8. robert_A
    October 31, 2012 | 3:00 pm

    Why should taxpayers have to pay for commissioners or any other public employee to commute to work? Nobody in the private sector gets that, so why should any public employee get that? The article says that the commissioners voted for it. Isn’t that wonderful?

  9. Beth Perkins
    October 31, 2012 | 2:32 am

    This article really bothers me. I’m so tired of seeing political mudslinging. Candidates should be honest & just say “Hi, my name is so&so and this is what I stand for.” Also how does the general public know what is the truth when it comes to expenses? I know Mr. Smith’s ad is false because I used to work for the County and attendance for MACo & NACo is often required. These expenses are reimbursed without cost to the local taxpayer. Commissioner Chilcott suggested the Board of Commissioners decline accepting reimbursement for mileage. As a Board, the majority voted to continue to accept reimbursement per MCA law. So if Mr. Smith was elected, he too would have to accept the reimbursement for mileage. My main issue is, if someone is willing to speak falsely about another person to get elected, what would they do while in office??

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