Franklin sheriff threatens to sue county for $500k over auditor’s spending ‘harassment’

Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond is considering filing a half million dollar lawsuit against the county over what he says is targeted harassment of sheriff’s office employees by the auditor’s office.

So far Franklin County is backing up Auditor Matt Beaton in a fight that looks poised to spill into a courtroom. If it does end up as a civil suit, the county’s attorneys will be responsible for defending the county and Raymond will have to pay for his own legal representation.

A similar situation played out in 2018 when Superior Court judges sued the Franklin County clerk. The Washington state Supreme Court ruled that while the elected judges had a right to sue the county, they would have to do so at their own expense.

Raymond and Beaton, who are both elected officials and both Republican, have been publicly at odds since earlier this year when Beaton denied a meal reimbursement.

Beaton was trying to enforce changes made to a meal policy in 2020. Public records show his office had not sent out updated information about the per diem and travel policies and continued using old forms, which Raymond said he filled out the same way he has for nine years.

Jim Raymond
Jim Raymond

Raymond refused to budge, and eventually Beaton told his employees to turn off Raymond’s purchasing card and to deduct money from his paycheck.

Raymond said that as the elected head of the sheriff’s office, Beaton does not have a legal or constitutional right to dictate his office’s spending.

That led to Raymond filing a $25,000 claim against the county alleging his 1st and 14th amendment rights were being violated.

After that, the county and Raymond seemed to come to a tentative agreement to quash the issue, but he says the county hasn’t kept up its end of the bargain. Raymond said that he updated his office’s travel policy to align it with Franklin County’s former travel policy.

“When we tried to settle this long ago, the agreement was that the commissioners would pull their travel policy back, review and align it and they would reimburse me the money they took out of my paycheck,” he told the Herald. “I have the legislative authority to create my own policy and if you look at it, it mirrors the last Franklin County policy.”

Mike Gonzalez
Mike Gonzalez

But County Administrator Mike Gonzalez shot back in a news release Friday that Raymond does not have the authority to create his own travel policy, only the county commissioners can do that.

Claims and potential lawsuit

Raymond told the Herald he has filed five separate claims against the county in 2023, and he believes three are now past the required waiting period for a response from the county.

Gonzalez said the county has made the decision not to respond to the claims. Once the claims pass a 60-day response period, state law allows Raymond to formally file a lawsuit.

He said he intends to do just that early next year. The Herald has not yet received copies of his other claims.

Franklin County will change its commissioner elections in 2024 after the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the Voting Rights Act as constitutional. File/Tri-City Herald
Franklin County will change its commissioner elections in 2024 after the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the Voting Rights Act as constitutional. File/Tri-City Herald

“I’m actually going to send correspondence to the (state Attorney General) on the matter and also to the state auditor and then file a half a million dollar lawsuit,” Raymond said. “Because he can’t control the office of sheriff, he tries to control the employees.”

Raymond also sent the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office a list of issues he would like them to look into and offer a full legal review related to auditing practices and authority of elected officials.

After Raymond made a public Facebook post about the most recent incident and sent out a news release, Gonzalez sent a news release on behalf of the county.

In the county’s release Beaton said he would continue to direct his office to audit to the standard set by the commissioners.

Matt Beaton
Matt Beaton

“The suggestion that the rejection of unsupported claims is motivated by anything other than compliance with the state law and applicable polices is troubling,” said Beaton. “We work to help all claimants to complete documented and compliant claims. We process thousands of claims each year.”

Expense reimbursement

The most recent issue at hand is a denied per diem payment for a captain in the sheriff’s office. Records released by Raymond show that Capt. Sheryl Brunk was attending a conference in Blaine, Wash., about five hours from the Tri-Cities.

On the first day she was driving to the conference Brunk claimed a per diem allowance for breakfast. The Auditor’s Office said it was invalid because she did not eat before 7:30 a.m.

Gonzalez said auditors tried to contact Brunk, but Raymond stepped in. Raymond sent the rejected invoice back with a note in the exceptions box that it was in line with the sheriff’s office travel policy and directed the auditor’s office to authorize the money from the sheriff’s budget.

The expense was rejected based on the departure time listed for her entire trip. Brunk listed her normal shift time of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. as her departure and return time.

The auditor’s office told Brunk to resubmit the invoice minus the $13 cost of the breakfast. In the initial exchange, they did not ask Brunk to clarify if she had made a mistake by inputting her shift time rather than the travel time or request a receipt to ensure the breakfast was not taken within the allotted time, according to emails provided to the Herald.

Gonzalez said the auditor’s office was not able to further clarify because Raymond got involved. Gonzalez said he’s looked into the matter and stands by the auditor’s office decision.

“She apparently acknowledged she made a mistake but the sheriff believes his policy trumps the county’s policy. This is where the commissioners have drawn the line. They are the authority and the sheriff’s policy isn’t the authority for Franklin County,” Gonzalez said in an email.

Ongoing conflicts

There have been a number of fights over audits this year, including one when Raymond allegedly overspent his budget.

Raymond told the Herald that what actually happened was his office was hit with a line item reduction from the previous year for uniforms and equipment, which he says is not something he can reduce.

He believes the audits are politically motivated and an attempt to control the sheriff’s office. Raymond said he’s not sure why these items were not previously subjected to audits given Raymond and Beaton have been in office for several terms, but he believes it started when he questioned Beaton’s use of his Franklin County Auditor blog to go after a county commissioner.

“I never had any problems until recently. When his ego gets hurt and you ask questions about what he’s doing, he runs off and tries to find a way to financially impact you with an audit,” Raymond said. “His job is to audit, report the findings of the audit and pay the bills. It is my responsibility by RCW and by legislative authority to manage those budgets, and that’s all I’ve done for the past nine years or so.“

Gonzalez said the commissioners want to make clear that they are the executive authority in the county and that while Raymond is the elected head of public safety and law enforcement, he cannot supersede the board’s policy decisions.

Commissioner Clint Didier said Raymond needs to understand that it is the county commissioners who set policies.

“It’s interesting how Sheriff Raymond is the only person who seems to have issues following the policies. I guess that’s why he went out and created his own travel policy so he wouldn’t have to follow ours,” Didier said in the news release. I’ve got news for Sheriff Raymond, we are the executive branch in this county.”

“He may think he’s the chief executive officer but he’s not. He needs to learn that the board sets policy and we empower our elected officials and department heads to implement the policies. His act is getting old and I think the public views this as complete political grandstanding,” Didier said.