By Rick Borden, Hamilton
Lost amidst the justified uproar surrounding the Ravalli County Commissioner’s Title X decision and the Medicine Tree controversy is the injustice of the appointment of the new county treasurer. The Ravalli County Commission is getting exactly what they deserve. The taxpayers of Ravalli County are not.
Remember the November 2010 election? Incumbent treasurer JoAnne Johnson, running as a Democrat, was defeated by Mary Hudson-Smith, who ran as a “newly minted” Republican. It became clear, in a matter of weeks, that Hudson-Smith was unable to do the job, and was asked to resign. The Commission decided to interview the top three candidates from a pool of nine: Marie Keeton, JoAnne Johnson, and Max Boese.
March 2, 2011: Commissioner Foss would like another person added to the interview list and such person be interviewed at 10:15 am.
Commissioner Chilcott: reopening the applicant list could lead to problems (no public notice?)
Commissioner Kanenwisher (Missoulian, Mar 3): “We realized we had counted wrong and there was one person that had another vote to be interviewed.” That magic vote was for Valerie Addis, now known as Valerie Stamey. Ms. Stamey was interviewed the next day. (Minutes at rc.mt.gov)
Republican Marie Keeton was appointed, even though the incumbent, Democrat Johnson, was supremely more-qualified. That appointment turned out to be unproductive, to say the least. Watch history repeat itself.
On December 30, 2011 delinquent taxes for half of 2009, all of 2010, and all of 2011 were made to Ravalli County by Addis (Stamey). Guess who entered the primary race for Ravalli County Treasurer in January 2012? Stamey ran against Keeton. Stamey had been employed by Missoula County Public Schools as Food Service Director at a salary of $50,000+ per year. Can’t pay her taxes? Or won’t? Stamey was defeated in the June primary by a vote of 4712 to 1809.
Treasurer Keeton resigns her position effective the end of August 2013. Two applicants are selected to be interviewed – Valerie Stamey, and Linda Isaacs, the person serving as the tax lead in the treasurer’s office since January of 2011. Stamey’s letters of support all appear to be personal friends of hers, with no knowledge or experience of her skills or work background, with the exception of her friends at Snowbowl, where she ran a kids’ program. How many of these support letters were solicited by Starr Farley (Commissioner Burrows’ mother-in-law)? Hmmm…
Ms. Isaacs’ references included the entire Ravalli County treasurer’s office staff, the Sanders County Treasurer, a retired Lake County Treasurer, the current Lake County Treasurer, a former Lake County Commissioner, a current Lake County Deputy Treasurer and three individuals involved with local irrigation districts and/or RC&D, who have dealt with Isaacs on Ravalli County financial business. Isaacs’ resume lists five years experience working for Black Mountain Software, which is used by Ravalli County. At Black Mountain she provided software support for customers, many of whom are Montana county governments. Every person supporting Isaacs worked with her in a professional capacity. Frankly, Isaacs had been shoring up the Treasurer’s work load for several months (as Marie Keeton prepared to leave), and even designed and implemented a new balancing procedure which streamlined the treasurer’s daily work.
Read the letters at rc.mt.gov.
But that wasn’t good enough for Burrows, Foss, or Stoltz. For Commissioner Foss, it appears she was sold back in 2011 when she successfully secured the extra interview spot for Stamey. I was told how great Stamey’s interview was, how much she wanted the job, and how enthusiastic she was in answering the interview questions. Considering that she had the same questions posed to her in 2011, she should have been prepared. (In 2011, the interview was the big selling point as well, for Marie Keeton over JoAnne Johnson. How’d that work for you, Commissioner Foss?)
Notes from the 2013 interview/hiring process: (my comments in parentheses)
Foss: Both qualified, but possess a different set of skills. Need someone who can supervise people. (Stamey allowed all but three employees to take the day off on Friday, November 29, the busiest day of the month for DMV and the busiest day of the year for property tax.) Need someone who has a commitment and passion for this position. Valerie has twice now attempted to get this position (with Foss’s personal intervention). Has strong governmental accounting (proving to be patently false) and will bring a fresh look. (Look?)
Stoltz: Both good candidates, what stood out is the enthusiasm. One candidate stated they were the most experienced but showed no enthusiasm. (Linda was warned that morning that she would not be hired. How much enthusiasm could she have?) Stated she was not interested in running in the next election and that she needs the health insurance. (Linda Isaacs put in writing that she would run for election in 2014. The health insurance issue turned into “we have her over the barrel, she can‘t leave.”) We could be right back here in two years if we don’t appoint Val. (Like when you appointed Marie Keeton.)
Burrows: Noted the close scoring: 1.5 points difference. Both have potential to run the office. Comment Linda made about needing this position for insurance (should that disqualify her?) Linda has the technical skills but can she handle the 7-8 employees. (Apparently Stamey cannot!) Val has desire and she can pick up the software aspect and Linda and others can guide her and train her. (Besides, Linda needs the insurance.)
(In 2011, Isaacs was immediately hired to the tax lead position as soon as Hudson-Smith took office. She was told to allow Hudson-Smith to fail. This time, Isaacs was not qualified enough to assume the treasurer’s job, but apparently good enough to train the new treasurer. When Isaacs refused she was bullied, by HR Director Robert Jenni and Stamey, into doing the treasurer’s work, so she resigned. Next in line – in the opinion of HR and the commissioners – to save Stamey was Deputy Treasurer JoAnne Johnson. Johnson found employment elsewhere.
To their credit, Commissioner Iman and Commissioner Chilcott’s comments were wholeheartedly in support of Isaacs, because of her obvious qualifications.)
HR Jenni said a background check is done and references are contacted, but only after the commissioners make their choice – so no one was contacted concerning Isaacs’ references. Her glowing letters of reference – of real work experience – didn’t make it past Commissioner Burrows’ desk; they apparently didn’t matter.
Did Jenni contact Stamey’s references? Yes, but only two of three. When questioned about each business on her resume from Missoula, the only business he remembered talking to was Snowbowl. So he actually remembers contacting one of three references.
Stamey’s resume claims 33 years of government fund accounting including bank reconciliations, accounts payable and receivable, and billing. She was the Food Service supervisor at Missoula County Public Schools.
Missoula County Public Schools: our food service supervisor would sign some, but not all food service employee time sheets which would then be submitted to the payroll department for processing, approve invoices of purchases for processing, and oversee the department’s budget. Missoula County Public Schools has departments for accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll, and accounting which is ultimately responsible for deposits, banking statements, etc. These are not things handled by the food service director.
Does anyone see red flags here? References not checked until after a person is selected for the job. Only contact two (or was it just one?) of three references. Neither business is contacted where Stamey may have done work similar to what she claims as actual experience. It might be unfair to lay all the blame on Mr. Jenni. Is this a matter of woeful incompetence or was he instructed not to dig too deeply? Whose job should it be to thoroughly vet the person who will be in control of millions of taxpayers’ dollars?
Grant Creek Inn says a person working in the capacity listed on Stamey’s resume is paid about $12/hour. Why would a professional with her expertise leave a $50,000+/year position, in the middle of a school year, for a job at a motel making $12/hour?
In September 2013, Stamey’s license plate was expired from September 2010 – only three years short of being legal. Someone making over $50,000/year can afford to license her vehicle AND pay her property taxes. According to her, that car blew an engine and was not driven for three years. How did current parking stickers from The University of Idaho, where she was a catering “specialist,” get there? Is she a tax-evader on top of being unqualified?
I repeatedly raised my concern for the well-being of the employees caught in this crossfire – because the office was already deeply in chaos – with Commissioner Burrows. His response: any visit to the work area would be a breach in the chain of command. Didn’t Burrows and Stoltz personally, on site, oversee the situation at the County Road Department when that controversy arose? Evidently the “chain of command” is only applicable when convenient.
I asked Jenni: if the commissioners had chosen Isaacs over Stamey, what is your opinion of how the office would be running? His response was that it would be running smoothly and probably no one in the public would even realize that a change had been made in the treasurer’s position. His honest opinion concerning the morale in the office? One-word response: terrible.
The job description listed for the newly combined position of Deputy Treasurer/Tax Lead seems to require more experience and knowledge than the treasurer’s position! Combining these positions will still leave the Treasurer’s Office extremely short-staffed and miserably managed. Good luck finding a minion who will do the dirty work –correctly – while the treasurer refines her $50K annual salary supervisory skills. With the commissioners’ hiring history, this situation can only get worse.
My closing thoughts are with the citizens and taxpayers of Ravalli County. We deserve better. Do you feel confident in the safety of your money with Ms. Stamey as your Treasurer, even though she can’t seem to handle her responsibilities on time, in or out of the office? Correspondence to the commissioners proves the incompetence is escalating. These are our tax dollars at risk.