Ravalli County spends $70K investigating embattled treasurer

2014-04-18T06:50:00Z 2014-07-05T20:21:55Z Ravalli County spends $70K investigating embattled treasurerBy PERRY BACKUS Missoulian The Billings Gazette
April 18, 2014 6:50 am  • 

HAMILTON – Following the advice of the county attorney, Ravalli County commissioners made no moves Thursday to change the status of the county’s embattled interim treasurer, Valerie Stamey.

Stamey has been on paid administrative leave since January after her refusal to answer questions about a civil lawsuit she faced in South Carolina and provide the commission with required financial reports.

The county has since spent more than $70,000 to pay for an investigative report into allegations Stamey made, an ongoing audit into the office’s financial situation, and for a retired Beaverhead County treasurer to help sort through months of backlogged work.

Stamey’s compensation from the county was reported to be about $1,000 a week.

County Attorney Bill Fulbright met with the board Thursday morning for two hours.

Fulbright reviewed the investigative report he commissioned to consider allegations Stamey made against two commissioners and several other past and present county employees.

While finding there were personnel problems inside the treasurer’s office, retired District Judge Nels Swandal found no evidence that any laws had been broken. His eight-page report was released last week.

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A good deal of the discussion Thursday focused on what the commission’s next step should be in addressing Stamey’s current employment.

In particular, commission chairman Greg Chilcott wanted to know where the county attorney’s office was in moving forward with a $29,000 lawsuit against Stamey approved by the commission on March 10 for not making required financial reports.

Fulbright told the commission he believed it prudent that the county wait until it has all relevant information pertaining to Stamey’s case before moving forward with the civil lawsuit he believes will open doors to additional issues and take up to five years to settle.

“In the context of a lawsuit lasting three to five years, waiting one or two months is a drop in the bucket to put the county in the right position to protect county taxpayers and county funds,” Fulbright said.

Several members of the public urged the commission to move sooner and remove Stamey from the county’s payroll. Some said there was no reason to wait to file a lawsuit that was inevitable from one side or the other.

Under state law, the county could take Stamey off the payroll by filing a lawsuit to remove the interim treasurer from office due to official misconduct.

Ren Cleveland of Hamilton told the commission that if had a case, it needed to get it filed.

“You don’t put things like that off,” Cleveland said. “If you have a bad toothache today and you don’t do anything about it, it’s going to hurt tomorrow just like it does today. Get rid of her.”

Laurie Riley of Corvallis said the public doesn’t really understand why the county continues to pay Stamey a salary. The longer it goes on, it increases people’s suspicion that there was some sort of cover-up occurring.

“You don’t have to be afraid of a lawsuit,” Riley said. “I think you are going to get sued anyway.”

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All of the commissioners voiced frustrations about the county’s current situation and its inability to address the issue straight on.

“This is as frustrating to me as it is to anyone else,” said Commissioner J.R. Iman. “The dollars that are being spent are coming out of my pocket just like everyone else in this county.”

In his time as a commissioner, Iman said he’s seen the cost the county has incurred when it has been pulled into lawsuits it was not prepared to defend.

Iman agreed that “a little bit of caution” was prudent at this juncture.

Commissioner Jeff Burrows then suggested the county should consider reinstating Stamey so it can at least get some benefit from the money she was being paid.

Chilcott said he would not support that idea.

Stamey was placed on administrative leave with pay pending a further investigation when she refused to attend a meeting set aside specifically to offer the opportunity to explain a civil judgment she faced in South Carolina.

The 2010 default judgment alleged she twice cashed an $18,149 check she received from a law firm involved in refinancing her home.

The commission provided her three separate opportunities to explain herself. Each time she failed to respond.

On Thursday, Chilcott said he doubted that anyone on the board would have voted for appointment had they known about the financial troubles she faced.

Stamey was selected by a 3-2 vote to fill out the term of the county’s former treasurer last September.

Chilcott also inquired about the status of a purported FBI investigation in the treasurer’s office.

Fulbright said he has not heard another thing about the investigation.

“The FBI doesn’t have an obligation to let us know when it terminates an investigation,” Fulbright said. “They could disappear without us ever knowing the investigation is over.”

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