Jefferson County Citizens Petition County Commissioners to Audit the Sheriff’s Office
Chris Campbell addressed the Jefferson County Commissioners Monday to present a petition signed by hundreds of county residents requesting ”that the Jefferson County Commissioners request a formal, 3rd party, impartial, forensics audit of the Sheriff’s office.” Campbell acted as the spokesman for other citizens who share his concerns. The meeting opened with Campbell presenting each of the commissioners with a packet containing the concerns and demands of the involved citizens. He then read the packet and petition to the commissioners and the crowd in attendance. The group alleges that in the last decade, the county has lost “literally hundreds of thousands of dollars by common and good men. . . who were left unchecked and unaudited.” Chris Campbell sited a statement in The Declaration of Independence which says, “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” The following eight points were listed as the basis of the petition:
1. Several reimbursable expenses charged by the sheriff’s office that show no reimbursements on record. Please refer to the statement in your packet from the clerk’s office indicating that they have no reimbursements on record for several expenditures.
2. We have obtained thousands of dollars’ worth of reimbursement warrants from the Idaho Controllers office that should have been returned back to the county for county reimbursement but the county has no record of. This is thousands of dollars the county should have been reimbursed back but never saw.
3. The sheriff’s office currently has two accounts that we are aware of that are not auditable by the county. These accounts we have been told have had bills paid out of them, and have been used as a slush fund to make payments on bills. One account is the “N” fund or “Narc fund” which is an account at the Bank of Commerce in Ririe in the Sheriff’s name. The other is an “Inmate or Commissary Fund” which is also in the sheriff’s name and is a separate account at Zion’s bank. We don’t know a lot about these funds, but our research indicates that these accounts are illegal in nature because they cannot be audited. Did you as commissioners know that these accounts existed? Did you know that these accounts are not auditable and are illegal in nature? Why have we not done something about them?
4. Several extravagant travel and training expenses expensed by the sheriff’s office that have exceeded the expense amount allowed by the state. (An example of this would be several stays at Boise’s Owyhee Plaza). Were you as commissioners aware that these types of extravagant travel expenses were occurring while tax payers here in the county are struggling to just pay their taxes? Further were you aware that the very few times in which reimbursements have been submitted back to the county by the sheriff’s office, only a partial amount was reimbursed and the tax payer had to pick up the tab for the rest of the travel expenses?
5. In the past, the sheriff’s office has ignored allegations of drug abuse by county employees in which they refused to investigate. Further, the sheriff’s office is currently being sued because they will not serve garnishment paperwork to specific individuals in the county. These law suits cause the county added expenses, but the real question is, why is the sheriff’s department refusing to do their job in these cases?
6. Idaho code spells out that all police officers must be POST certified within 1 year of hiring. As of last month, there were 3 officers working full time in positions that would require POST certification but are not certified. This leaves the county open for additional legal action to be taken against it.
7. Gag order – The Sheriff’s office issued a gag order on all employees shortly after the cell phone issue came to light. This adds to the mistrust and lack of transparency in this county. Why issue a gag order if you have nothing to hide?
8. And finally, cell phone records indicating the use of county funds for a cell phone not used by county employees. This issue has been recently brought to light by the media and is still a concern among county residents.
The packet also contained three appendices which contained copies of checks, bank account information and transactions to back up the first four claims. The petition also stated that other suspicious activities outside the bounds of the sheriff’s office which may implicate other elected officials and employees within the county had been found, but such activities were not spelled out in the meeting. Campbell wishes to meet the commissioners in an executive session to discuss those matters.
After reading the petition, Mr. Campbell addressed the questions of the County Commissioners. Commissioner Tad Hegsted pointed out that the copy of the check included in the packet was for $509, while the petition claimed that thousands of dollars of tax payer money had not been reimbursed to the county. Mr. Campbell explained that the copy was only a sample, and represented only one check out of ten that had been found. Campbell stated that the ten checks totaling $3800 to $4000 were cashed but not deposited back into the county accounts. Commissioner Jerald Raymond asked if Campbell had found debits against the county for amounts that corresponded to the checks. “Yes,” said Campbell. “There are travel charges that should have been reimbursed and were not. We went through your clerk’s office in an exhaustive process of trying to gather all of those. There are legitimate travel expenses that we have matched up with reimbursement checks. If you refer to C in your packet you can see that there’s expenses there that totaled more than what the reimbursement check came back for. This is a case where we have matched up travel expenses with one of these reimbursement vouchers from the state.”
“I thought we were speaking in generalities at this meeting. If we’re gonna make accusations against an individual,” Raymond began, but was corrected by Campbell saying, “Not an individual, a department.”
“This appears to be an individual to me,” countered Raymond. “However, you are aware that when a person travels, in an instance like this, on state business and does not use county funds to do so, this check comes back as a reimbursement to him for his personal expenses.” Campbell answered that he understood.
“I am in question as to whether this is one of those [checks] where there is county expenditures to correspond with this,” asked Raymond. “Or this is a check that reimbursed him personally for his own personal expenses, and I think that there needs to be clarity on that. There needs to be fact. And there’s not fact here. I’m sorry but there isn’t fact here.”
“I agree with what you’re saying,” said Campbell. “That’s why we request an audit. Even if you throw appendix A out . . . there’s enough [information] in b and c and the other 7 points that we’ve discussed that are fact to warrant an audit.”
At this point the commissioners moved on to the third point in the petition that discusses two bank accounts in Sheriff Olsen’s name. Both Commissioner Raymond and Karren asserted that the accounts mentioned in point number 3 of the petition had been audited as part of the annual fiscal year audit with no red flags or specific problems. The commissioners state that under the recommendation of the county auditor, the commissary account had been closed and the funds moved to the bank that is used by the rest of Jefferson County to consolidate and make audits easier.
Chris Campbell has requested to see the fiscal year audit containing the audit of these two accounts which is public record.
In regard to the cell phone issue, Attorney Robin Dunn has contacted the attorney general who is the chief prosecutor in the state of Idaho and asked him to investigate this issue and give some guidance so Attorney Dunn can do the correct thing. Dunn also stated that he personally cannot prosecute any of these elected officials or any other elected official. Attorney Dunn also explained the book keeping processes of the county. “Every month these commissioners sign off on every single claim,” Dunn said. “Now do they view each one of those claims? Probably not. They can if they desire to do so, but they sign a sheet that says, we’ve reviewed the claims for this month, and if there’s anything that they feel is extraordinary they can go get the documentation for that claim. I don’t know what they think or how they do it. I know that one of Commissioner Raymond’s goals when he came into office was to look more closely at claims. You could only ask him if he has.”
The commissioners did not address any of the other issues brought forward in the petition.
Commissioner Raymond said that Jefferson county citizens had been drawn into the controversy emotionally by the media and street talk. He called Campbell’s statement about the county losing hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last decade reckless. “I think probably 99.9 percent of the things found here could be resolved if we looked the Sheriff in the eye and asked him how these things came about,” said Raymond. “I’m sorry to use the word sheriff, head of the Justice Department. I think that if you were to talk to him one on one, we would know.”
Commissioner Debbie Karren also asked if Campbell had spoken to the department head.
“No. I have not,” Campbell answered.
“You’re not interested in doing that?” Karren asked.
“I’d be happy to.”
“Well how come you haven’t?”
“You know, that’s a good question. I don’t know why we haven’t.”
At the end of the meeting Campbell told commissioners he would try to speak to Sheriff Olsen if it would make the commissioners more comfortable.
Commissioner Raymond said “If it takes an audit to clear this up so that we can get back to living our lives as friends and neighbors and so on, I’m all for that. I am not sure that what you’re asking for is where we need to go. I’m not sure that the taxpayers in this county are prepared to spend 50 to 100 thousand dollars for a forensic audit. Now maybe there needs to be an investigation. Maybe an investigation would clear up what we’re looking at here. I don’t know. I’m asking what you think would be a resolution,” Raymond told Campbell.
“I think we can do something as simple as what Mr. Dunn has a suggested,” Campbell answered. “Contact the Attorney General’s office. Let them come in and do a non-partial investigation with the Sheriff’s budget and the way they’re running things and see if there isn’t areas that need to be cleared up.”
Attorney Dunn confirmed that while the County Commissioners would have to make that decision, it would be possible to ask the Attorney General to also investigate the other concerns addressed by the petition along with the cell phone issue.
“I think that would satisfy the group,” Campbell stated.
“And evidently nothing else,” said Karren. “I am disappointed that someone hasn’t gone to the person that knows, and at least asked. This could have saved a lot of trouble and you know, maybe not but that’s disappointing to me.”
Campbell stated repeatedly throughout the 44 minutes that they didn’t want to incriminate or accuse any one person. “All we’re asking for is an open book audit or investigation so we can get things above ground.”
Commissioners Karren and Raymond ended by thanking Campbell and his group, and said that coming to the commissioners was the proper way to handle the situation. “We do have another side of the county that would like to voice their opinion too,” Karren said, “so we would like to hear from them.”
Jay Clark, a resident of Jefferson County for 51 years spoke to the commissioners and audience in opposition to Campbell’s group. Clark expressed that he believed the actions of Campbell’s group were politically motivated by the upcoming election. He also said that past and present commissioners and sheriffs had been cost conscious and done their jobs well. He accused the media of seeking to keep controversy going. Clark said he knows most of the county officials personally, and thinks they are good honest people. “If there were any mistakes made, I think it wasn’t on purpose,” he said. “The audits that have been done already should be looked at before we go on and do anything else.” It is expected that citizens for and against the audit will both appear on the agenda of the next commissioners meeting on August 27th. However, the meeting has not been scheduled yet.
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