Paul Gray

Paul Gray, Grant County emergency management coordinator, addresses County Court Aug. 26. Gray moved the county’s COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center out of the airport and into the Office of Emergency Management amid reports of people with keys to the airport offices were going through the rooms where newly purchased equipment had been stored.

Keys, laptops, receipts and daily activity reports related to the nearly $250,000 spent by the Grant County COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center remained unaccounted for Thursday.

Paul Gray, the county’s new emergency management coordinator, said he moved the EOC out of the Grant County Regional Airport.

Amid reports that people were letting themselves into the airport terminal after hours and going into offices where the county had stored recently purchased communications equipment, Gray said he moved the office sooner than he had planned. Initially, he said he wanted former EOC staffer Seth Klingbeil to go through the supplies with him to see if other departments checked out anything and if anything was missing, but said he did not want to take the chance with the county’s investment.

“I just wanted to get this stuff out,” he said. “I was being told that people were up there quite a bit, and I didn’t want to leave it up there and have people going through there and taking stuff.”

According to Gray, the airport staff reported that they noticed the lights were left on in rooms where the EOC stored its equipment when they showed up for their shifts in the morning.

Airport Manager Haley Walker said 14 keys to the airport were issued, but so far, only six have been returned. She said the airport will be changing its locks.

Gray said Klingbeil told him in an email four were locked in a safe, but Gray does not have the combination to verify whether they are there.

Both Gray and County Commissioner Jim Hamsher were also waiting for Klingbeil to share passwords to the EOC finance team’s computers so they could retrieve documentation sent to the state from Witt O’Brien, the service the county contracted with to prepare reimbursement documents for COVID-19 expenditures.

In July, the Eagle filed a public records request for the electronic file the county used to determine COVID-19 expenditures to the state for reimbursement.

Paperwork sent to the state on behalf of the county from Witt O’Brien states Grant County is tracking labor costs, which include “Daily Activity Reports (214’s), employee names, dates.”

According to the form, the total labor costs were $215,278.13. The county court’s labor came in at $35,268, and the EOC’s labor total came to $88,616.87.

Hamsher, the court’s EOC liaison, said the $35,268 reimbursed to the county was for actual wages.

Both he and Commissioner Sam Palmer, who said they volunteered upwards of 1,000 hours each, were paid for their regular 13.5 hours a week at $40.07 per hour. Hamsher said in July that, from March to mid-May, they were paid for 168 hours, and the county was reimbursed for that amount.

Hamsher told the Eagle Thursday he did not have time to look for the daily activity reports as he was focusing the efforts of the “Hay for John Day” volunteer group that will take hay to people with livestock who have been affected by the recent fires.

The EOC, which the county court established in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic, appointed Grant County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Dave Dobler as incident commander on the recommendation of Sheriff Glenn Palmer, despite former emergency management coordinator Ted Williams’ objection in an emergency meeting that the county’s health department needed to be involved.

The EOC came under a barrage of criticism in June when it overspent its $125,000 budget by almost $75,000, spending nearly $92,000 on supply procurements. Without pre-approval from the court, the EOC purchased a variety of items, including at least 11 laptops and six speakerphones for $900, plus $90 for two-day shipping.

Dobler resigned amid the fallout. Upon Gray’s hiring, the remaining employees were Klingbeil and interim incident commander Chris Rushing, who worked remotely from Portland since March.

Gray said he would be the only paid employee at the EOC, and the county will be entering into a “unified command” with the health department in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gray said the pandemic is a public health crisis, and the health department needs to be in a leadership role. Gray said he will bring on volunteers if he needs the help at the EOC.

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Steven Mitchell is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Contact him at steven@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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