By Michael Howell
Prior to Monday’s discussion and decision to give control of the Office of Emergency Management back to the Sheriff’s Office, Commissioner Suzy Foss and Sheriff Chris Hoffman had already had a few words about it by e-mail.
Sheriff Hoffman said that he had mentioned to Commission Chairman Greg Chilcott that he would like the commission to consider putting the OEM back in the Sheriff’s Office and that Undersheriff Steve Holten was currently working on a potential Memorandum of Understanding to that effect. Then he got word, second hand from several people, that Commissioner Foss was making public remarks about the issue suggesting that the Sheriff’s Office wanted the department back so that it could access the funds for other uses.
Hoffman e-mailed Foss about it on April 23:
“I have received several calls relating to your publicly stated concerns regarding the management of OEM. I thought it might help you in your future stumping, to have the facts. Money which is earmarked for use by the county’s Office of Emergency Management can be used for no other purpose. This is no different than money earmarked for the 911 Center. To me, it is just that simple.
“Frankly, Suzy…I have plenty on my plate, these days. I merely offered to take back management of OEM, because we are closely tied to that operation. Further, given that we understand the limited budget that OEM has to work with, they have always had access to the resources of my office, and they use them quite frequently. This situation will not change whether I manage OEM, or not, as it only makes good sense.
“So you see, from my perspective, the situation is just the opposite of the concerns you are apparently sharing with my partners in the emergency services community.
“As always, I am happy to visit with the Commissioners, any time, regarding emergency services operations in our community. After all, that is my area of expertise, as well as my responsibility.”
Commissioner Foss replied the same day, stating that, with a change in leadership imminent, it was an appropriate time to reconsider how OEM is managed. She said any possible changes should be considered and all the pros and cons weighed. She said that she was leaning toward keeping the OEM independent of the Sheriff’s Office.
Then she shifted gears, and stated, relative to an incident that occurred in the crowded hallway outside the Commissioners’ meeting room when Treasurer Valerie Stamey was placed on administrative leave, “Let’s get to the real issue here Sheriff. You walked me into a wall in a crowded hallway and made strong accusations and frankly YOUR behavior was way out of line. I am an elected official of EQUAL status, rank and responsibility as you. I have supported you since long before I came into office. I have fought against Greg and JR to give your department more funding, bigger reserves. I have listened to your public speeches in our meeting room clearly grandstanding against this BCC. Still I respected and supported you and your position even when I felt disrespect from you. I cannot say that I have ever felt respect from you for my position.”
She said that asking questions and seeking pros and cons was part of her job.
“That is my job and I really no longer give a hoot whether you like that or not,” she wrote.
Foss said that she made what she thought was a confidential call to the Attorney General’s office to ask a simple question and, within two hours, “You called me, you gave me what was clearly NOT correct information. I watched men I work with let their egos and need for revenge set our county up for a huge lawsuit and I shared my concerns, recommended we slow down and that was backed by legal council [sic]. I was ignored and the storm grew every time we held another public meeting looking to cast blame, all the while ignoring that at least one investigation was on going. The only scandal in the Bitterroot was the one not covered by the press in my opinion,” wrote Foss. She has called the failure of other office personnel to help Stamey with her duties as Treasurer a politically motivated act of sabotage.
“When (Commissioner) Greg (Chilcott) charged ahead despite HR concerns I told my coworkers that I was going to call to find out about how to start an out of county investigation. I was observing actions and hearing things that were not appropriate for the situation and felt the sooner we got to the bottom on the real issues in the Treasurer’s office the better. Several commissioners backed me up, one actually suggested the AG’s office as a resource,” wrote Foss.
“I would never have called DCI that Tuesday morning had you not said what you did to me on the previous Friday in your call to me and if Greg had not called five minutes after we said goodbye. How the heck did you both have the idea that I started or wanted to start an investigation at that moment in time? That’s when things started to smell to me,” she wrote.
Foss claims that when she related what happened and what was said to County Attorney Bill Fulbright, he said, “I wonder why Chris would say that to you?”
“That is when I called DCI for the first and only time, to clarify what was really required to start an investigation. I truly hoped it would be the same as what you said to me. It was not… So if I am not just sweet as can be with you at this point you might want to reflect on how you speak to me, how you disrespect me. Sheriff, you reap what you sow!
“That said, based on how you communicate with me I cannot help but have concerns about how you manage those you deem less than you. I will not let my personal loss of respect for you influence my decision on your budget and will always support our wonderful law enforcement professionals who risk their lives on a daily basis for me, my family and our citizens. I simply am handing my hurt, anger and frustration into the hands of our Lord and am praying for healing for us both,” concludes Foss.
Sheriff Hoffman said that prior to Stamey’s public accusations against some of the commissioners and other county employees and her demand for an investigation, Commissioner Foss had called the Department of Justice (DOJ) to initiate her own investigation. He said he got a call from someone in the Department of Criminal Investigations who told him that a commissioner was trying to start an investigation and he wondered what was up? Hoffman said he didn’t know anything about it. He said the official asked if he (the Sheriff) would deal with it.
Hoffman said he called Commissioner Foss and advised her that if she had concerns she should take them to the County Attorney. He said Foss told him that she was “uncomfortable” doing that, but did not elaborate.
“She asked me what it would take for me to do an investigation,” said Hoffman. “I told her to talk to her civil counsel and get a quorum of the Board to ask for an investigation. I told her ‘You two (Commissioner Ron Stoltz) don’t get to call a witch hunt’.”
Hoffman said that Foss’ allegations about backing her into a wall and verbally intimidating her were not true. He said their conversation took place in a crowded hallway with the press and other media present and somebody would certainly have noticed if anything like that occurred. He said it was Foss who placed a hand on his shoulder to stop him as he walked in front of her in the hallway. He said he turned and leaned against the wall to talk with her and she leaned against the wall, too.
Hoffman said he was not angry so much as embarrassed and that he told Foss that she had embarrassed him in front of his peers. He said, “I told her that I was sick and tired of her political nonsense.”
When contacted by the Star, Commissioner Foss refused to comment on the matter. She told Star publisher Michael Howell that she didn’t believe he was a journalist. “I think you’re just a blogger,” said Foss.