“Clearly” Problems - The Missourian: Editorials

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“Clearly” Problems

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Posted: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 6:28 pm

It’s not every day when one county official alleges that another county official broke the law. Then again, these aren’t ordinary days in Franklin County government.

Two weeks ago Franklin County Auditor Tammy Vemmer claimed in an email to this newspaper that the Franklin County Commission “clearly” violated a state statute when it approved and electronically signed a $610 check for training for the county health department without her knowledge or consent.

The commissioners authorized the check after Vemmer expressed concerns over the check because it was for training that would have occurred in 2014 but would have come out of the 2013 budget. Vemmer pointed out that paying for something out of a different year’s budget is not a good accounting practice.

Generally speaking, Vemmer is correct on this accounting point. But make no mistake, this latest flare-up is about more than generally accepted accounting principles.

It is an example of the friction that exists between various county departments which has been brewing for some time and, in some cases, borders on open hostility. Some say it’s the worst it has ever been in county government. That’s a hard statement to corroborate, but politics and personalities are colliding in county government in a manner and with a frequency that is raising eyebrows. It is also contributing to morale problems with county employees.

That has been the case lately with the auditor’s office and the commission. No doubt there is bad blood between these two key county departments. Some say it began when Vemmer recently broke ranks with other county officials and publicly questioned the county’s decision to borrow millions for its controversial “Pave the County” program. Whatever the origin, things have been especially rocky between the auditor and the commission.

To be sure, this is nothing new. County auditors have sparred with county commissioners over various issues for as long as we can remember. Things got so tense with the previous auditor that some commissioners publicly suggested he resign.

The dust-up over the check approval illustrates the level of distrust between the two departments. The reality is the county has approved prepaid training expenses in the past without this level of acrimony and apparently the county’s outside auditor didn’t have an issue with it.

Plus, by paying earlier, the county received a discount on the training which is offered through a federal program. The check wasn’t for anything sinister, rather it was for a lactation training conference in Chicago.

When the commissioners ordered Vemmer to approve the payment and she refused, they played hardball and cut the check anyway. The commissioners defended the move pointing out they are entitled to do so under the law. Vemmer disagreed charging they “clearly” violated the law.

The only thing clear in this matter is that it should have never happened in the first place. You don’t need a law degree to understand that. The public deserves better from its elected officials. Had Vemmer approved the check in the first place, none of this would have happened.

Second District Commissioner Mike Schatz called a meeting of county officials last Monday to define the process, procedures and the legal requirements associated with county purchases. County officials say they made a lot of progress at the meeting and hope they can work together to avoid these types of misunderstandings in the future.

We hope so, too. But we wouldn’t bet on it.

/opinion/editorials

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