Ravalli County commissioners OK lawsuit against interim treasurer

2014-03-11T13:00:00Z 2014-06-24T14:00:05Z Ravalli County commissioners OK lawsuit against interim treasurerBy PERRY BACKUS Ravalli Republic The Billings Gazette
March 11, 2014 1:00 pm  • 

HAMILTON — Ravalli County commissioners voted unanimously Monday to direct the county attorney’s office to file a lawsuit against interim treasurer Valerie Stamey.

The suit will seek $29,000 in fines for the 58 instances the commission documented that Stamey either neglected or refused to file financial reports that state law requires of all treasurers.

The commission compiled the list at a meeting in February that included public testimony from a variety of local tax entities that depend on the county treasurer’s office for bookkeeping and tax disbursements.

Stamey did not attend Monday’s meeting.

She was appointed last September to fill the term of an interim treasurer who left for personal reasons. After her appointment, the office fell months behind in its workload following the departure of three of the office’s most experienced employees – who left amid hostile workplace complaints.

Stamey last appeared before the commissioners in January. At that meeting, she fired off a series of accusations against three commissioners and others before leaving without providing an update on the situation in her office.

On Monday, Commissioner Jeff Burrows made the motion to accept the resolution to move forward with a lawsuit against Stamey.

He said the commission provided the treasurer with ample opportunity to come in and explain the situation, but Stamey decided instead to make allegations or refuse to attend meetings entirely.

At the beginning of Monday’s meeting, Commissioner Suzy Foss said she wasn’t comfortable moving forward with the lawsuit before ongoing investigations into the treasurer’s office are completed.

The county attorney’s office has hired an independent auditing firm to complete a forensic audit of the office and a retired judge to do an investigation into allegations made by Stamey. There is no timetable on when the audit or investigation will be finished.

Foss worried the commission was being pushed by public perception that something needed to be done about the treasurer before it had a chance to gather all the information being compiled in the investigations.

“I’m concerned about the increased liability to the county by moving forward at this point,” she said.

Commission chair Greg Chilcott said Monday’s action had nothing to do with the information that will come from either the audit or investigation.

At its February meeting, Chilcott said the commission focused its investigation on whether Stamey made the financial reports required by state law during the months of October, November and December.

The public provided a good deal of testimony at that meeting that the commission used in making its determination, he said.

“I believe this was a very thoughtful and thorough process,” Chilcott said.

The commission placed Stamey on paid administrative leave Jan. 23 after she failed to attend a meeting set aside for her to explain a civil judgment she faced in South Carolina that alleged she cashed an $18,149 check twice.

Stamey sued the Butte-based auditing firm working on the forensic audit of the county’s books after it issued a status report in February that said the treasurer’s duties had not been properly executed and the office was in disarray.

Ren Cleveland of Hamilton told the commission it was time to fire Stamey.

“Just fire her and let her prove her innocence,” Cleveland said. “She didn’t do the job ... end of story. Let the judicial system figure it out.”

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