Recent news articles involving the Douglas County Commissioners claim the commissioners used federal money to fund premium airfare and cover the cost of lodging a pet during a county conference, but the stories don’t paint a complete picture.
Records released by the county show commissioners did use federal money to cover the cost of pet lodging and first-class airfare, but later reimbursed the county — either directly or indirectly — with their own money.
One of the most striking accusations raised in a recent article claimed Commissioner Tim Freeman used money from the Secure Rural Schools program to pay for his dog to stay with him during a trip to Sunriver for a National Association of Counties event in 2017.
Freeman did initially cover the entire cost of the stay with his county card. When he arrived at the resort on May 23, 2017, hotel staff handed him a bill and informed him he still owed $99.11 for the stay — which included the cost of the room, a resort fee, taxes and the nonrefundable pet fee.
But when the event was over and Freeman went to check out of the hotel, records provided by the county show Freeman made an additional payment of $71.37 — covering the $65 pet fee and $6.37 of associated tax.
Tamara Howell, a spokeswoman for the county, said Freeman used cash and his personal credit card while checking out on May 27, 2017. The resort receipt shows Freeman used a different card, separate from his county card, to pay about $11 of the pet fee and paid the rest a different way.
The resort receipt does not specifically indicate if the payment was made with cash and the county doesn’t have a cash receipt, according to Howell.
Records do show, however, that the county was reimbursed by Sunriver Resort for $71.37 — the cost of the pet fee plus tax.
Freeman again reimbursed the county after a personal purchase in 2019 when he received a last-minute invitation to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House.
A few days before the trip, county records show Freeman paid $2,020 for a flight to Washington, D.C., plus an $89 seat upgrade. Howell said the upgrade was purchased “to accommodate the larger stature of the Commissioner, as well as to comply with specific airline size restrictions for passengers.”
But after purchasing the ticket, the airline called back and said the coach seat was no longer available and that the only remaining seat was in first class, according to Howell.
Freeman purchased the more expensive ticket on the county card on July 3, 2019, but later, on July 26, 2019, wrote the county a check for the difference between the coach seat and the first-class upgrade, according to county records.
While it’s clear that Freeman reimbursed the county for these two separate purchases, it isn’t clear whether using a county card to cover personal expenses, even temporarily, is a good practice.
In nearby Lane County, using county credit cards to cover personal expenses is prohibited and personal purchases made in error require the purchaser to fill out a specific report. Purchases filed without an original, itemized receipt require a different form to be filled out.
In Douglas County, “employees are directed to only use County funds for official business expenses and not for personal expenditures,” according to Douglas County Human Resources Director Michael Kurtz.
“However, in reviewing these two specific examples the County has no problems with how these transactions took place,” he said in an email. “The first class ticket was purchased due to a last minute booking for a one leg of a flight to the White House (The flights were Eugene to Portland to D.C. and then the return flight were D.C. to Seattle to Eugene – only the Portland to D.C. leg was first class, the rest was “coach”). It was purchased on an emergency basis due to flight availability and was for official business purposes. Due to this Commissioner Freeman, under County fiscal policies, was under no obligation to reimburse the County for the difference for the upgrade to a first class ticket, but he did. The pet fee was reconciled at checkout on the credit card, which was used to hold the room. No County funds were ever used to pay for the pet fee. Lastly, all County purchases are carefully reviewed by the Management and Finance Department and are subject to annual audits.”
Lane County policies don’t specifically ban the practice of intentionally using county money to front personal expenditures, but Devon Ashbridge, a spokeswoman for Lane County, said the practice definitely isn’t encouraged.
“It’s not something I would do,” she said.
On Friday morning, The Oregonian published a correction about its claim Tim Freeman used Secure Rural Schools funds to pay for his pet's lodging.
"It does appear that a funding source other than Secure Rural Schools paid the cost of boarding Freeman’s dog at Sunriver Lodge in 2017. Nowhere do the documents show it was Freeman personally. He said by phone on Thursday that he paid cash and acknowledged that the invoices for the transactions were not clear.
"Charges on an invoice from Sunriver Lodge show the pet fee as part of a charge the county paid. But separately, the county’s credit card statement shows refunds in amounts that collectively appear to match four nights of pet lodging. A handwritten note on the statement says “AOC pd.” Freeman said he thought that meant Association of Oregon Counties, but didn’t know why the organization would have paid.
"Before publishing its original article online January 15, the newsroom asked Freeman about the pet charge. He did not dispute the apparent use of federal funds, saying he was unapologetic for taking his dog. Based on information that Freeman has provided since publication, The Oregonian/OregonLive is updating this post and past coverage."