Newspaper editor Bruce Anderson, in his capacity as a taxpayer, took the first step Wednesday toward filing a small-claims lawsuit against Mendocino County for failing to reclaim $3,087 of travel reimbursements overpaid to 4th District Supervisor Kendall Smith.
Anderson, who is editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, filed a claim as an individual against the county seeking to recover the amount on behalf of the county’s taxpayers.
His claim states, “We do not seek to recover any funds ourselves, but we demand the county recover $3,087 (as documented by the Mendocino County grand jury) plus all applicable costs, fees, interest and penalties from Supervisor Smith since the time of her claim.”
Smith allegedly claimed reimbursement for business trips between her Fort Bragg home and Ukiah from January 2005 until November 2006, “when there was no actual travel and when her cost of overnight lodging was little or nothing because she either stayed with friends or in a room which she rented for $100 per month (in Ukiah),” according to a letter District Attorney Meredith Lintott wrote in 2008 to Smith’s former attorney in the matter.
Anderson notes the claim is “preparatory” to seeking an injunction that would require the county to recover the money Mendocino County Auditor-Controller Meredith Ford determined Smith was overpaid, a calculation Ford said she did at the behest of the grand jury.
“Damages are suffered by the citizens of Mendocino County who are deprived of the use of funds wrongfully given to Supervisor Kendall Smith,” Anderson’s claim states under the “specific injury, damages or other losses” question on the form.
Ford is named in the claim Anderson filed Tuesday, alongside Smith, as a county employee who allegedly caused the injury, damage or loss.
“This is two-pronged,” said AVA writer Mark Scaramella, who helped prepare the claim. “The county should have taken the money back, so the county is at fault for not collecting the money after it was pointed out to them. And the other side is that Smith took it and kept it.”
The grand jury questioned the overpayments again this year after Smith called the since-changed county policy on travel reimbursement confusing, and denied she was overpaid for the business travel she claimed, in her responses to two prior grand jury reports.
Ford asked for a legal opinion after Lintott ordered her to dock Smith’s pay until the $3,087 was repaid. Claiming a conflict of interest, Mendocino County Counsel Jeanine Nadel passed on the request to the Sonoma County Counsel’s Office.
Sonoma Chief Deputy County Counsel Sheryl L. Bratton issued an opinion earlier this month, saying Ford and Lintott had no authority to dock Smith’s pay without a court order or other “administrative proceeding or hearing.”
Anderson’s claim against the county cites state civil law that allows any taxpayer or corporation paying taxes in the jurisdiction to file for a judgment to stop and prevent “any illegal expenditure of, waste of, or injury to, the estate funds, or other property of a county, town, city or county of the state.”
Anderson filed his claim using a form available at the county’s website, http://www.co.mendocino.ca.us. Scaramella said he expects the county will deny the claim as a matter of routine, at which point he and Anderson plan to take it to small claims court.