County manager’s emails rankle commissioner

Sharna Johnson

Curry County Commissioner Dan Stoddard said he is frustrated with County Manager Lance Pyle after Stoddard’s request for jail figures sparked a series of emails among county officials questioning his loyalties.

Pyle said he was only trying to ensure the release of accurate information.

In February, the commission voted to give Pyle the authority to renegotiate a 2008 joint powers agreement in which Clovis pays the county $115,000 a year toward the jail’s $4.2 million budget to offset the cost of housing inmates.

In a March 8 email to Chairman Caleb Chandler and Co-Chairman Wendell Bostwick, Pyle forwarded Stoddard’s request to them and wrote, “Caleb and Wendell, I sure hope he does not share this information with (Clovis Mayor) Gayla (Brumfield) or other city personnel prior to the meeting(s) on contract negotiations.”

Pyle’s email included a forwarded email his administrative assistant received earlier that day in which Stoddard requested monthly breakdowns of adult and juvenile jail population numbers. Stoddard also requested last year’s detention costs, including repairs and out-of-county housing costs.

In a responding email, Bostwick instructed Pyle to consult the county attorney for an opinion on whether a conflict of interest existed, and if so, “… how much info we need to provide.”

“I also want copies of everything Dan has or will be asking for regarding this matter,” he wrote.

Stoddard and Commissioner Bobby Sandoval are each elected members of the city and county commissions.

The emails were obtained Friday through a public information request made by the Clovis News Journal.

Pyle said he is in the process of gathering information for negotiations with the city and with software issues at the jail, everything has to be done by hand, requiring double checks and he is concerned about erroneous information being given.

“Misinformation is worse than no information,” Pyle said. “I also think it’s important that all of (the commissioners) receive the same information from the same place.”

Pyle said he has not spoken to Stoddard about the request but didn’t mean for him to think he wasn’t trusted.

“That was not the intent at all if that was implied. I’m going into negotiations and I wanted to make sure all of the information was correct,” Pyle said.

“This is all public information, we just need to make sure it’s all compiled and accurate… I don’t have a concern with conflict of interest. The county commissioners were elected by the people to represent the people that elected them.”

Bostwick said when Pyle expressed concern to him, he asked for an opinion from the county attorney to see what if any issues there were, but said he’s not concerned with the issue of conflict.

“I think Dan’s a trustworthy guy and I don’t think he would (act in conflict to his duties) and at some point there’s going to be a vote on whatever we do (with the agreement),” Bostwick said. “That’s (Stoddard’s) position and I’ll let him make his own call. I think it will be a tough position to be in, (but) I’ll never tell another commissioner what to do, I don’t know what to do sometimes; grown people can disagree without being disagreeable.”

Stoddard said he is not involved in the negotiations and requested public information, which he needs to be able to serve in his role as a county commissioner.

He said he learned of the reaction to his request March 23, when Pyle emailed all commissioners the county attorney’s opinion that only personal financial gain would constitute a conflict. Researching to find out what had sparked the attorney’s opinion, Stoddard said he was surprised when given the March 8 emails.

“My only frustration is with the county manager. I truly feel if he had any doubt at all, instead of asking a different commissioner what I was doing he should have come to me directly without a doubt and confronted me,” he said. “Lance stirred the pot, (but) had Mr. Pyle (come to me) I would have told him.”

Stoddard said he believes it is his responsibility to be informed about issues related to the county and especially the jail, which poses an ongoing budget, management and safety challenge.

“The only one that seems to have concern is Manager Pyle… It’s my understanding the only ones who didn’t know (he raised the issue) was me and Bobby (Sandoval)… It’s my obligation to want to be informed on these issues,” he said.

“My district as a county commissioner is the city. I am the only commissioner that does not have a piece of the county. With the revenues the way they are and the problems we have in the county… I don’t see how all of us working together to make sure the burden on the taxpayer isn’t doubled … It’s everybody’s tax dollars paying to fix this problem. How does that hurt anybody in the end? We’re all paying the same.”

Sandoval said he has consulted his personal attorney, who agreed with the county attorney’s opinion on conflict of interest for dual-commissioners.

“My definition of a conflict of interest (is) when I vote on something that will directly effect me or anybody in my family. The joint powers that were talking about to me wouldn’t fall under a conflict of interest,” he said.

“The people that I serve on the county and the city (commissions) are basically the same people. I don’t understand why anybody would even consider that there would be a conflict of interest in something like this.”

Brumfield said she was not aware of the email exchange or the issue raised, but said she has no concerns about a conflict and hasn’t talked to Stoddard about the negotiations.

She said she would expect the city manager to do his own requests for information before he sits down with Pyle to discuss the jail.

“I think Dan’s probably just trying to educate himself … I think he probably just took it on himself to go ask for it and he has every right to do that. I do that kind of stuff before we make a decision, because I want to know,” she said.

“I think that everybody needs to be on the same playing field … I think it needs to be transparent and everybody needs to know what they’re dealing with; I don’t understand why we wouldn’t want to know.”

Though not involved with the negotiations, Stoddard said he also isn’t satisfied with the agreement the county has now and hopes Pyle does his homework going into the new one.

“Pyle was the person that was involved with the last contract that we had and with the negotiations that we did, maybe he didn’t do the research that was needed to get the best contract that we could have at that time, but that was another commission,” he said.

Stoddard said he received a partial answer — cost figures for adult and juvenile detention — to his request for information but was told by email he would have to get the rest from jail officials. After his request came into question, Stoddard said his focus shifted and he hasn’t followed up with the jail for the other information.