BOARD WANTS ANSWERS FROM COUNTY AUDITOR

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By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

 

The Clayton County Supervisors Monday took an unprecedented step to address significant issues in the county auditor’s office. They voted unanimously to formally serve County Auditor Dennis Freitag with list of issues that he must respond to at a meeting scheduled October 26 at 2 p.m. He will be placed under oath and his responses transcribed by a court reporter.

If Frietag refuses to make the required report, he can be removed from office by a majority vote of the board.

Freitag was not present at Monday’s meeting nor was he specifically notified about it. However, the item was listed on the supervisors’ agenda, which is generated by the auditor’s office.

Freitag has been regularly absent from his office for several months while dealing with a family medical emergency. Supervisor Ron McCartney said board members haven’t seen or spoken with Freitag since June 30. He added that Freitag is not answering emails, responding to voice messages or answering his cell phone. More than 1,600 messages have piled up in his email box, many of them time-sensitive.

Day-to-day operations in the auditor’s office have fallen behind. In August, supervisors brought in Loyce Dumke to help with backlog. She will be paid no more than $14,000 for her three-month assignment. Under Iowa law, Freitag receives his full salary while Dumke is working in his place.

Issues with the auditor’s office have been ongoing for several months. According to McCartney, action was not taken earlier because the board, which includes McCartney, Gary Bowden and Larry Gibbs, has been “trying to work in good faith with the county auditor in getting some of this work done. We respect and understand the current health situation (in his home), and we have taken several steps to get things done at the office and still allow him to address his personal situation.”

One of those steps was bringing in Dumke, whose hiring Freitag approved while he continues to do limited work at home.

The supervisors have a lengthy list of discussion items for Freitag, all of which have been tied to section of Iowa code by County Attorney Alan Heavens. For example, the board wants a full financial report—what checks have not yet been deposited, what payments have not yet been made and what funds have been carried over from the fiscal year that ended on June 30. The supervisors said they have not seen an expense report summary since March nor have they seen a final, fully reconciled report for the FY15 budget; county department heads received their authorized FY16 budgets late last month.

There are some potentially serious financial implications at stake. Election fees have not been collected since 2013. The county has fronted more than $35,000 to towns and school districts to cover election-related expenses  (setting up voting machines, supplies, payments to workers) over the past two years. The county receives reimbursement for those expenses but invoices were only recently sent. The supervisors are concerned that the time has run out to collect some of those funds. Similarly, the potential for fines and penalties has become a reality: The county recently paid $100 in penalties for a $25 bill.

The county auditor’s office has three employees but only Freitag has the ability to delegate his work to them.

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