Local government

Malheur County says Smith cost it nearly $70,000, wants his company to pay up

VALE – Malheur County officials are seeking nearly $70,000 from former economic development director Greg Smith’s company to recoup costs related to public records litigation.

The details of the reimbursement plan were outlined in an Aug. 25 letter to Smith from the Bend law firm representing the county – Bryant, Lovlien & Jarvis.

The county wants $68,911 from Smith’s company for attorney costs and a settlement payment made to resolve a lawsuit by the Malheur Enterprise involving access to public records.

Smith didn’t make the payment by the Sept. 15 deadline set by the county. This was the third time in the past year that the county has sought Smith’s agreement to protect the county against costs for his company’s actions.

Neither Smith nor his attorney, Bill Ohle of the Portland law firm of Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, P.C., responded to calls or emails seeking comment on the county’s demand.

Smith, a Republican state representative from Heppner, quit his private contract with Malheur County in June 2022 to act as its economic development director. He subsequently quit his role as project manager for the Treasure Valley Reload Center in early 2023 as the Nyssa project became mired in debt and delays.

In its latest demand, the county asserted that a July 19, 2021, contract between it and Gregory Smith and Associates requires the company to hold county harmless in any type of lawsuit related to his contract duties.

Smith’s company, according to the letter, was “obligated to defend, indemnify, and hold county harmless for all causes, actions, damages, costs, and expenses arising out of or related to the lawsuit.”

The letter noted that “at all times relevant, Smith was a company owner, officer, employee and/or agent. Company’s obligation under the agreement included responding to and processing public records requests in accordance with applicable law.”

The lawsuit by the Enterprise related to “the acts, omissions, and/or services company and/or Smith took to respond to the requests.”

Smith’s company was paid $9,000 a month for his economic development contract and another $6,000 for work on the Nyssa shipping depot.

The county reached out to Smith and his company after it was notified the Enterprise intended to sue over delays and fees related to documents requested from Smith.

Stephanie Williams, Malheur County counsel, asked Smith in an August 2022 letter that his company protect the county against legal costs. Smith did not formally respond.

A second letter sent in February 2023 again asked that Smith’s company protect the county against legal fees. Smith did not respond to that letter either, according to the latest demand.

The Enterprise sued the county and Malheur County Development Corp. in September 2022 to enforce the state’s public records law. In May, the county and the development corporation settled the lawsuit, paying the Enterprise $40,000.

Under the terms of the settlement the development company paid $20,500 while the county paid $19,500.

The letter to Smith seeks that $19,500 and another $49,411 that the county spent on attorneys.

The letter set a Sept. 15 deadline and said “if the company fails to timely make payment, county will pursue all rights and remedies it may have under the agreement and/or applicable law, including, without limitation, commencing appropriate legal actions against the company and Smith in Malheur County Circuit Court.”

County officials said while the deadline has passed, attorneys for both sides are still conducting “conversations” to potentially settle the county’s demand.

Jim Mendiola, Malheur County commissioner, said he believes Smith should pay the county because his work on the reload project was inadequate.

“He did a poor job on the whole thing,” said Mendiola.

Mendiola said he is disappointed regarding the status of the reload center. Work on the center is paused while officials seek more money to finish the project.

“It (the reload center) is sitting over there with millions of dollars we can’t recoup. We’re in a high spot in a high river and there not a lot of good ideas to get out it,” said Mendiola.

Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge, said there “is no reason to believe we won’t get the money” from Smith’s company.

He also said since the issue is still a legal matter he did not want comment further.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected].

Previous coverage:

Commentary: Citizens are winners in Enterprise lawsuit over public record

County, MCDC settle Enterprise lawsuit over records, promising more transparency

Enterprise sues Greg Smith, Malheur County over public records matters

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