By JONATHAN ZWEYGARDT
Earlier in the week the Ellis County Commission raised concerns with some changes made recently within the Treasurer’s office and a lack of communication between the Treasurer and the commission.
Treasurer Lisa Schlegel says the move is a political attack and an effort to distract Ellis County residents from what she says is a less-than-adequate job being done by another elected official.
At Monday’s Ellis County Commission meeting, Chair Dean Haselhorst read a statement raising concerns about a “nook” installed in the treasurer’s office as a break room and security cameras that have been disabled.
Haselhorst said Schlegel is an elected official so she can spend money in her budget as she wishes as long as she does not exceed her spending authority.
“I want the public to understand that the commission has a very limited power over individual expenditures made by the elected officials,” Haselhorst said in the statement. “Once we set the annual budget, elected officials are really only subject to the county’s purchasing policy.”
Haselhorst also raised the issue of security cameras that have been disabled within the treasurer’s office. According to the statement, the commission believes it is Schlegel’s intention to have them removed completely. Haselhorst said Monday all the commissioners want the cameras turned back on.
“We’re not pointing figures. This is a public safety issue, employee issue, staff issue,” Haselhorst said. “They should have never ever been removed in the first place, and they need to go back in …yesterday.”
When reached for comment Wednesday, Schlegel, who was not present at Monday’s meeting, claimed everything goes back to her criticism of County Clerk Donna Maskus and the way the clerk’s office has handled the tax rolls.
“There’s been pressure tactics, there’s been comments, there’s been meetings, so I’m not surprised that this is what they’ve decided to do,” Schlegel said, “which is a political smear campaign to distract from the real simple underlying issue, which is the clerk’s consistent delinquency.”
Schlegel contends Maskus and members of her staff have broken state statute by not providing the Treasurer’s office with the necessary tax information by the Nov. 1 deadline.
“It’s not so much that it’s like ‘Oh it’s the law and you have to follow it’, which it is that too,” Schlegel said. “But it’s the amount of different pressures that applies to the county as a whole when the date is pushed back.”
Maskus said her office must wait on other counties to share their tax information before they can complete their process and then give that information to the treasurer’s office.
Ellis County receives tax levies and valuations from all of the surrounding counties, including Barton, Rooks, Rush, Russell and Trego. Because the counties are adjacent to each other, they share several taxing districts. Maskus said that includes school districts, extension districts and fire districts.
They also have to make sure taxing entities’ budgets are covered by the tax levies. Maskus said if the wrong information is given to the treasurer, tax statements might have to be reissued.
“This is not unique to Ellis County,” Maskus said. “Other county clerks go through the same thing. We do what we can, but there is a lot of checks and balances.”
Schlegel contends other county treasurers haven’t had to wait as long.
“I’m not saying it doesn’t happen in any other counties,” Schlegel said. “I talked to a group of 50 treasurers at the last conference I attended, and out of 50, the latest anyone had ever gotten information from their clerk was Nov. 6.”
Since Maskus took over as clerk, the treasurer’s office has received the correct information several days after the Nov. 1 deadline.
Schlegel said she believes the commission wasn’t truthful when members said people have reached out about the “break-space” and they are “irate” about tax statements not going out in a timely fashion.
Schlegel also said Wednesday she believes the commissioners do not want to get along with her.
“They want to pressure me, bully me, influence me and meet with me when it benefits them,” Schlegel said. “When I want to meet with them, which there are many times, and my entire staff will vouch for this, that I have asked for them to come in here and see the cameras and explain about them.”
The security cameras were turned off when Schlegel took office a year ago. She said the cameras were shut off in an area where no one handles money. Schlegel said the move was an effort to save money on the county’s security contract.
According to Schlegel, shortly after she took office, she met with Commissioner Barb Wasinger and County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes and Wasinger said it was OK to turn off the cameras.
Wasinger said Thursday that was not the case. She related the content of her conversation a year ago with Schlegel.
“I said it was not a good idea, and that they need to be reinstalled,” Wasinger
Smith-Hanes also confirmed this week Wasinger did not approve the move and wanted the cameras turned back on.
Schlegel said the commission is bringing these issues to light now is an effort to, “create a certain appearance around me as a distraction from what’s really going on.”
“I will not be intimidated by bullying,” Schlegel said. “I’m here to do a job for the Ellis County taxpayers. I am not here to bow to the political elite of Ellis County.”
Commission Chair Dean Haselhorst said the effort to discuss the issues that were brought to light by the commission this week were not political.
“These are general concerns of the public, and when our constituents confront us, it’s our responsibility to address the issues they bring,” Haselhorst said.
He also said the current issues of the nook and the cameras have nothing to do with the issues between the clerk and treasurer.
“Presently we have had a lot of calls about her (Schlegel’s) department and what is going on within her department, and that’s why we addressed them Monday night,” Haselhorst said.
“We’re not out to pick on any department, nor would we as a commission,” Haselhorst said. “That wouldn’t be very professional on our part. We’re just addressing concerns that have been raised over to us over the last three to four weeks.”