The Franklin County commissioners violated state statute last week by issuing a check without proper certification from the county auditor’s office, County Auditor Tammy Vemmer alleged last week.
The commissioners had the check drawn without her knowledge, without her consent and had her signature electronically applied to the check, Vemmer told The Missourian.
But Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said the commissioners acted within the “letter of the law.” He said state statute and the opinion of an attorney support the commissioners.
Vemmer said she was “taken aback” and that the commissioners bypassed her authority.
“The commissioners clearly violated state statute,” Vemmer wrote in an email to The Missourian. “There is a reason that the state statutes are set up the way they are, in order to have a set of checks and balances.”
County Counselor Mark Vincent said the county commission may have violated some technical wording in the state statute, but he said the “spirit of the law” was not violated.
Moreover, Vincent said the county may have made a mistake and that if people want to assign blame he will take it. County officials learn by their mistakes and this will not happen again, Vincent added.
Likewise First District Commissioner Tim Brinker said, “We didn’t violate the law,” adding that the commissioners are in office to serve the people.
But Vemmer cited state statute that says, “no warrant shall be drawn or obligation incurred without the auditor’s certification . . .”
At issue was a $610 check that the health department had requested be provided to cover a lactation training conference in Chicago.
Vemmer said she had concerns about signing off on the check because it was proposed that the 2014 training come out of the 2013 budget. Paying for something out of a different year’s budget is not a good accounting practice, she said.
However, Vincent said it is not unusual to have prepaid expenses.
Health Department Director Angie Hittson said her office operates on grants that often have different fiscal years than the county.
In an email to The Missourian, Vincent said the county got a discount by paying for the training early. He also said that if the county did not use the federal training money by Oct. 1 that the county risked losing the funds.
“This created the potential for a log jam which had to be addressed or we could have faced a situation where one office holder could effectively close down the financial operations of the county,” Vincent’s email states.
Vincent also wrote, “Without doing what we did this problem would continue to fester like a cancer.”
Officials involved in the controversy met on Monday to discuss purchasing procedures, and Vincent said the outcome of the meeting was positive because officials are moving forward now.
However, the discussion at the meeting did appear to get tense when County Prosecutor Bob Parks showed up. Vincent asked why Parks was there, and Vemmer and County Treasurer Debbie Aholt said they asked Parks to attend.
Vincent said he felt that this was done behind his back and that Parks did not need to attend the meeting.
The discussion at the meeting did not go into the specific instance that happened last week until The Missourian raised questions. Aholt attempted to discuss what happened with the health department check, but Vincent said the discussion was about the broader process of approving purchases.
Brinker was not at the meeting.
Treasurer Expresses Concern
Aholt told The Missourian last week that she was upset with the way the approval of the check for the health department was handled.
But after the meeting Monday, Aholt said she was ready to put the problems in the past and move ahead.
Second District Commissioner Mike Schatz said there are different ways to interpret the issue. The auditor is in charge of auditing all of the accounts, and the commissioners have the authority to approve all accounts payables, he said.
But Vincent said Aholt has the “magic signature” because her sign off makes the check official.
Last week, Aholt said she heard that Griesheimer had her signature electronically applied to the check without her approval and when he knew she had concerns about the payment.
Moreover, Aholt said Griesheimer did this while she was out of town at mandatory statewide treasurer training. She said this raises trust issues with the county commission.
Aholt said the bank has to honor the check now that her signature is on it.
She said she told Griesheimer last week that she did not want to sign the check until she understood Vemmer’s concerns about the payment.
Because the auditor had not approved the payment, Aholt said she was reluctant to sign the check. Aholt said her signature is not usually put on checks until payments get approval from the auditor, commission and county clerk’s office.
She said she asked Griesheimer what would happen if she did not sign the check. She said he told her that he would find someone to sign it. She said she then told him that the check was not legal without the signature of the treasurer.
It is upsetting that Gries-heimer had her name put on the check while she was in Branson for training, Aholt asserted.
“His timing is unfortunate,” Aholt said.
Griesheimer said he did not want to offer any response to Aholt’s comments.
But he did say that he was not going outside of the scope of the commission’s authority because the other commissioners knew what he was doing.
He added that he thinks the Monday meeting ended in a positive fashion and that he does not see these issues happening again.
Last week, Griesheimer delivered a letter signed by the three commissioners to the auditor’s office, Vemmer said.
The Missourian obtained a copy of the letter, which states that the commissioners directed Vincent to provide a legal opinion in regards to “how payment of expenses should be processed and who has authority to approve or disapprove expenditures.”
Moreover, the letter states that Vincent discussed the issue with Missouri Association of Counties lawyer Ivan Schrader.
The letter, dated Sept. 11, adds, “Mr. Schrader and Mr. Vincent are in complete agreement.”
The letter goes on to say, “Accordingly, since we have approved and authorized the payment of the cost of the training requested by the health department you are hereby directed to process the purchase order immediately. We expect to have the purchase order processed no later than 2 p.m. today. If not so processed the county commission will take whatever action it deems appropriate.”
Prior to her office getting the letter, Griesheimer had attempted to be put on the county’s bank account, according to Vemmer. Griesheimer was not added to the account, Vemmer said.
On Sept. 11, Vemmer said she went to Vincent’s office to discuss the issue and that they talked about working things out. But while she was talking to Vincent, the commissioners asked the county clerk’s office to “do a manual check through payables for the $610,” according to Vemmer.
“This was done without proper certification by myself,” Vemmer said in an email to The Missourian.
“Worse yet,” the check was printed with the county’s check signer with her and Aholt’s signature on it, Vemmer’s email states.
Aholt said she heard at her treasurer training last week that the check signing machine should stay in her office, not the county clerk’s.
Vemmer said last week that her fear is that this will keep happening. The commissioners could keep having checks issued to anyone for any amount and apply her signature without her approval, she said.
“I’m not sure what to do,” Vemmer told The Missourian last week, adding that she believes she is standing on strong legal footing.
Also at the meeting Monday, county officials discussed modifications to the purchase order process. Currently, commissioners sign off on purchases after they are made. But Vincent said the commissioners should sign beforehand.