By Michael Howell
Greg Chilcott, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, authored a letter which was hand delivered to the Treasurer’s Office last Friday by Human Resources Director Robert Jenni, notifying Treasurer Valerie Stamey that “a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners will be held on Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 11:00 am in the Commissioner’s meeting room for the purpose of considering your involvement in the matters divulged in the lawsuit filed against you by Sheriff Law Firm in Greenville County, South Carolina, in September, 2010. The allegations in the suit, to which, apparently, you did not respond, raise concerns for a person holding a position of trust.”
Chilcott goes on to request that she provide “a written explanation concerning your actions and the disposition of the funds mentioned in the Complaint, and that you provide the explanation by 4:00 pm on Tuesday January 21, 2014.”
Commissioner Suzy Foss, who has been staunchly supporting the Treasurer throughout the current tumult, told the press last Friday that Stamey would have a response ready before the 4 p.m. deadline and that she planned to present her response at the already scheduled Treasurer’s Update with the commissioners on Tuesday, January 21, at 11 a.m.
At an emergency meeting held Monday, January 13, the commissioners agreed to request the Department of Administration step in and provide whatever aid and direction they can in bringing the Treasurer’s Office up to speed. They also approved seeking help from an outside source for accounting during the process, although an actual decision to do so would depend on the scope of the work and the cost, which hasn’t been determined yet.
Stamey said that she would accept any assistance.
Chilcott said that he had already contacted DOA director Kay Gray and that she had communicated to him that she had never seen this level of concern about a Treasurer’s Office expressed before. He said that Gray indicated that they would do an assessment but that it required willing and capable staff to move forward.
Bill Schiele, business manager for the Stevensville School District, said, “We need reports now. We need someone to come in and help get those reports out now.”
Stamey said, “That is my mind set as well. We need to get you your reports.”
The commissioners made the decision 48 hours later on Thursday to seek both DOA involvement and to seek a potential outside consultant, drawing on a list of accredited auditors that DOA has. The commissioners also agreed to hire some temporary personnel to facilitate the DOA involvement. The temps would answer phones and do other office work so that the top staff would be free to utilize the DOA resources to the best advantage. It was agreed to spend up to $2,375 on the temps. Those funds are already in the Treasurer’s budget in vacancy savings.
Chilcott said that he could not comment directly to the issue of the South Carolina civil lawsuit until he had a chance to hear from Stamey. He said a request with a deadline had been delivered to her for answers to the allegations and that after hearing all the facts on Tuesday, the commissioners would meet on Thursday at 11 a.m. and address the issue themselves.
Asked how he felt about Stamey’s appointment at this time, Chilcott said that he voted to appoint Linda Isaacs, who was working in the treasurer’s department at the time, because he felt she had the experience and the in-depth skill set required for the job. He said that Stamey “didn’t seem to have the qualifications specific to the treasurer’s job. But I have never interviewed a more eager and passionate applicant.” He said that was his view but the commission as a whole “came up with its best decision at the time.”
Commissioner Jeff Burrows, who voted for Stamey, said, “I don’t regret my decision at this point. There have been other factors involved. A lot of staff left.” About his vote he said, “It was close. It was not like it was a blow-out or like I had my mind made up before I went in. I went in and weighed things evenly.”
Asked Friday if he had changed his view, he said that he would stick by it and had no further comment.
Commissioner Suzy Foss, who has steadfastly supported Stamey, told KECI reporter Kevin Maki, “I have not had anyone show me that she is not able to do the job. But I’ve seen a lot of road blocks put up to prevent her from doing it.”
Human Resources Director Robert Jenni said that his office was re-thinking the policy governing employee interviews.
Jenni said that he conducted a criminal background check and it was fine. He said that he checked two of the three references, which is all that is required by the current policy. He also stated that the county’s current policy concerning application reviews didn’t really fit the treasurer’s office. He said that he was considering policy changes related to jobs “for people who hold positions of fiduciary responsibility.” He said it would obviously apply to the treasurer’s positions but might also apply to department heads and would involve investigation into financial records as well as criminal records.
Jenni made the same observation about the inadequacy of the commissioners’ application review policies for the treasurer’s position back in early 2013 when the commissioners were considering an appointment to that position. In the official minutes of the February 18 meeting, he states that “the county applications were not geared for this type of job.” Apparently nothing was done to correct it.
At the March 3, 2013 meeting, the commissioners chose between applicants JoAnne Johnson, Marie Keeton and Valerie Stamey. Stamey was shoe horned into the interview process by Commissioner Suzy Foss at the last minute. The application process was closed and three candidates had been chosen to be interviewed. The list did not include Stamey. Foss successfully inserted Stamey into the interview process on the day of the decision.
At that meeting a motion was made to appoint JoAnne Johnson but it was defeated on a 2 to 3 vote with Stotlz, Foss and then-commissioner Matt Kanenwisher voting against it. A motion was then made to appoint Keeton and it passed 4 to 1 with only J.R. Iman voting against it. Iman insisted that Johnson was the best choice because of her 20 plus years of experience in the office. The Commissioners appointed Marie Keeton despite Keeton’s own recommendation that day that they choose Johnson because she had the most experience.