County officials at odds over reimbursement methods

LISBON — A dispute over reimbursement sought by county Recorder Theresa Bosel for a $900 bill she paid out of her pocket sparked at least one heated argument with county Commissioner Jim Hoppel for failing to follow procedures and provide sufficient documentation.

The arguments took place during the first week of August, with two occurring in the commissioners office common area, and the other reportedly starting in the courthouse hallway outside their office.

The newspaper learned of the dispute after a reporter heard one argument going on in the commissioners office prior to the Aug. 2 board meeting.

Officials say they are part of a continuing clash with Bosel, who they say has been told repeatedly she needs to obtain a purchase order from the county auditor’s office before contracting for services or making purchases.

“There are procedures to follow …. None of this is new,” said Auditor Nancy Milliken.

The dispute over the $900 involves Bosel’s decision to pay cash to four people she hired to move the large index books from the basement section of the recorder’s office to make room for more and new computer terminals the public can use to look up records. Bosel told the four men they would be paid on July 12, which was a Wednesday, because one of the workers — in town visiting his father — was returning to New York that day. Bosel knew the auditor’s office only issues checks on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but she said they also make exceptions. When they would not in this instance since it was not an emergency, Bosel said she would pay them herself, which she did, but in cash instead of personal check.

Afterwards, Bosel asked to be reimbursed, and as documentation she submitted copies of a check for cash she wrote to herself in the amount of $580 and a bank statement showing she withdrew $320 in cash. Commissioners must approve all general fund expenditures, and Hoppel — acting in his capacity as board chairman — refused to consider the reimbursement request until Bosel provided further documentation.

“There was no way for us to tell if they were paid. She showed us some receipts showing where she had withdrawn (cash) out of her bank account, but that is not proof they were paid,” he said.

Jennifer Arnold from the auditor’s office sent Bosel an email on July 12 advising her it was improper for her to pay workers in cash. “The (state) auditors frown upon reimbursements, and it is not proper accounting. Reimbursements should be kept to an absolute minimum, and are mostly for items such as mileage and meals,” Arnold wrote.

Bosel said she had already paid the men in cash by the time she saw Arnold’s email. She concedes in hindsight that writing personal checks to the four workers “would have been the smart thing to do, obviously, but I probably only write five checks a year,” so it never occurred to her to do so.

As for the arguments with Hoppel, Bosel said the only heated argument took place on Aug. 2 and occurred after she had been going around and around with him on what was needed for her to be reimbursed. She said Hoppel first demanded the workers sign off on a time sheet showing what days they worked and how many hours. Then he said some of the signatures were illegible and wanted their names printed above where they signed their names.

Bosel said Hoppel came back again and told her he wanted a power-of-attorney document from the father who signed on behalf of the son who had returned to New York, which is when the Aug. 2 argument occurred in the commissioners office.

“At that point that’s when I told Jim that was unreasonable … I just told Jim that was enough,” Bosel said.

Although there were additional discussions after that, Bosel would not describe them as heated arguments. “That was the only one. There were no further dust-ups,” she said.

Hoppel said he backed off the power-of-attorney request after speaking with the man’s father, but he had another conversation with Bosel on Aug. 3 and told her he now wanted the workers to come into the courthouse the next day and sign the time sheets in front of them and produce some form of identification. Hoppel said that conversation may have turned loud.

“She was paying them in cash, and we had no proof who they were or if they were paid,” he said.

Staff confirmed there was another argument on Aug. 4 in the commissioners office. Hoppel said he and Milliken met with Bosel that day, “but there was no blow up … The case is over, and hopefully she’ll follow procedures in the future so we don’t have these problems again.”

Bosel agreed, saying, “We may have had some further discussions (after Aug. 2), but it was all worked out by then.”

The same workers were paid two other times for moving the index books, which took several weeks, but they were paid with checks issued by the auditor’s office. The auditor’s office had problems with the first of those two payment requests, however, because Bosel only submitted a handwritten note listing the total hours they worked and their names. She was given a time sheet to fill out and for the workers to sign.

Bosel said this is all much ado about nothing and does not understand why the newspaper finds it newsworthy. “All I was doing was trying to get the job done as cheaply and quickly as possible,” she said, adding that hiring these workers was considerably cheaper than contracting with a moving company.

Bosel said she sometimes is frustrated by how government works, and this may have been one of those instances. “Look at Donald Trump. He gets so frustrated because there is so much red tape and road blocks” that make it almost impossible for the federal government to get anything done in a timely manner, she said.

“So I was frustrated, I’m not going to lie … That’s not to say protocol is not important, because it is,” Bosel said, but she believes the steps she took adequately addressed Hoppel’s concerns.

“I just didn’t think it was a big deal,” she said.

Emails obtained from the auditor’s office indicated past confusion and disagreements with Bosel over procedures. At one point, in a dispute over which account Bosel wanted to use to purchase office furniture, she suggested the auditor’s office was making her jump through hoops and follow procedures that were not applied to other officeholders. Milliken authorized the transaction after checking further with the county prosecutor’s office.

“No other recorder I have spoken to in the state is subjected to the level of harassment your office subjects me to,” she told Milliken in an email dated Feb. 8.

Milliken disputed this, saying she requires every office to follow the same rules, and the only problems they seem to have on a regular basis are with Bosel.

In the aftermath of the dispute, Milliken’s staff provided her with a detailed, step-by-step chart for Bosel to follow when needing a check or seeking reimbursement for expenses incurred while traveling outside the county,” she said.