Search turns up last $5K missing from Ravalli County Treasurer's Office

2014-07-03T11:00:00Z 2014-07-07T10:01:09Z Search turns up last $5K missing from Ravalli County Treasurer's OfficeBy PERRY BACKUS Missoulian The Billings Gazette
July 03, 2014 11:00 am  • 

HAMILTON — Ravalli County officials have found the missing money.

On Tuesday, a team of five county officials made a thorough search of the office space formerly occupied by the county’s interim treasurer, Valerie Stamey.

Lodged behind the desk and the office wall, they found a deposit of $5,367.34 of checks and currency that came up missing in a recent financial examination of the treasurer’s office.

The deposit was part of about $780,000 found piled on Stamey’s desk and in box tops on her floor in late January after the commission placed her on administrative leave.

The door to Stamey’s former office has been locked and secured since her ouster.

Tuesday’s search was undertaken at the request of Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright and under the direction of Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman.

The officials said no evidence of criminal conduct was discovered during Tuesday’s search.

“Had any evidence of criminal conduct been found, the search would have immediately ceased and I would have contacted the Montana Department of Justice to request an investigation,” Hoffman said.

On Wednesday, the commission took the first step in a cautious approach in making its next appointment for that position.

Stamey was suspended without pay June 25 after the county decided to move forward with a lawsuit claiming she committed official misconduct.

The commission spent almost an hour an half debating the process it will use to fill that position until November, when voters chose the next treasurer.

The commission decided that it will be filled internally.

Most likely the position will be filled by one of the two people who have taken the lead in getting the office up and running since Stamey was placed on leave.

Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg and Dan Whitesitt of the treasurer’s office were appointed by the commission to serve as co-contacts for the office.

The commission and others have lauded their work in getting the office caught up and running again.

On Wednesday, Plettenberg made it perfectly clear that she believed the commission should appoint Whitesitt to the interim post.

“Hands down, I recommend him,” Plettenberg said.

Plettenberg said the current staff is still relatively new, but the people working there have been pulling together as a team. She urged the commission to not make any decisions that could set that back.

State law requires the commission to appoint someone to fill the position following a suspension.

The commission could decide to appoint Plettenberg as the interim treasurer until the election. If that’s the decision it makes, Plettenberg said she would do it, but she would still lean on Whitesitt to do the heavy lifting.

At this juncture, Whitesitt told the commission he would prefer the commission stay the course.

“I hate to make any changes in the office right now when everyone is working so well together,” he said. “I’m not sure that the office needs right now is another change.”

Whitesitt easily won the Republican primary for the post this spring. He faces former treasurer Mary Kay Browning in the general election this fall.

Whitesitt told the commission he didn’t want an unfair advantage over his opponent that might come from being appointed interim treasurer at this point.

Deputy Ravalli County Attorney Howard Recht told the commission that it needed to come up with a process that would enhance citizens’ confidence of the office.

That confidence was shattered last fall shortly after the appointment of Stamey as work in the office fell months behind after employees quit and the interim treasurer made accusations of corruption in county government.

The commission decided on six criteria upon which it will base its decision, including the completion of a financial background check on any candidate.

Commissioner Jeff Burrows volunteered to talk with the staff in the treasurer’s office to get their opinions on how the office should be managed in the interim.

He will report back to the commission before any final decision is made.

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