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Commissioners respond to suit by controller; file new charges

Published December 09. 2009 05:00PM

Schuylkill County Commissioners, through county solicitor Eic M. Mika, have responded to the civil suit filed against them by County Controller Melinda Kantner over the transferring of an auditor from her office to the commissioners' office and brought new matter by accusing the controller with interfering with the county's financial duties. Kantner filed suit when the commissioners moved Paul Buber, an auditor, from her office to their office claiming they overstepped their legal rights.

The county responded stating the commissioners are the responsible managers and administrators of the fiscal affairs of the county and have the duty to manage and administer the fiscal affairs of the coutny and that the discretionary powers of the controller shall not be applicable to the management of the fiscal policies of the commissioners.

They deny the controller's claim her office always performed with a staff of eight people, pointing out prior to 1998 the controller's office had seven people and only two were auditor positions. The controller's office had four auditors when the commissioners acted to move one. At the time of the commissioners' action the auditors, unlike other county employees, worked a 30 hour week. Two of the four auditors agreed to the change, one didn't and the fourth had been moved to the commissioners' office.

The three commissioners, sitting along with the controller at a salary board meeting on Feb. 4, deleted one of the auditor positions in the controller's office and created a financial analyst position under the Central Services and they claim they specifically avoided delegating any duties and responsibilities to the new financial analyst position that are required by law to be performed by the controller's office.

The commissioners admit that the only budget adjustment functions pertaining to accounting was removed from the controller's office claiming under the county code all budgetary functions and controls, including budget adjustments, fall within the sole province and duty of the county commissioners over which the controller has no discretion. They claim the commissioners control sole responsibility for preparing the county budget.

The commissioners explain their action in the budget adjustment was done after the controller refused to perform such adjustments that were approved by the commissioners which caused financial paralysis in the courthouse and significantly impared their legal duty to manage and administer the fiscal affairs of the county. They point out the budget adjustments they assumed deal solely with funds for duties and conferences which were transferred to the Central Services.

They deny the allegations that the day-to-day functioning and functions of the controller's office has been negatively impacted by the deletion of one auditor position from her office thus reducing the professional personnel avaible to the controller. The commissioners' response was in past years the controller's office functioned between two and three auditors and deny of any additilonal workload in 2008 from prior years.

The commissioners claim the controller has refused and continues to refuse to perform many functions including financial analysis, planning and report preparation functions that, for many years prior to 2008, were performed by the controller's office as a matter of custom.

The commissioners claim they clearly acted within the scope of their legal authority in deleting one of the four auditor positions in the controller's office and ask her suit be dismissed.

New charges

The commissioners also in their response to the controller's suit have levied new charges as follows:

The controller has failed and refused to provide financial information and reports to the commissioners which prevents them from making informed financial decisions; has discouraged and prohibited her employees from responding to the board of commissioners and county administrator requests for financial information; failed and refused to provide critical financial information in a timely manner; has provided erroneous financial information to the commissioners and the county's financial advisors; failed and refused to authorize duly approved fiscal transactions without any lawful basis, which has jeopardized the county's financial ratings; impaired the county's relationship with its financial and economic partners and vendors and caused financial turmoil within the row offices, department and agencies of the county.

The controller is also charged with misrepresenting the county's finances; has failed to provide critical financial information to the county retirement board; has provided incorrect, inadequate and erroneous financial information to the retirement board, leaving the commissioners in the dark concerning county finances. (The retirement board is comprised of the three commissiones, county treasurer and controller).

The commissioners also claim prior to being elected controller in November 2007 the controller never held a publicly-elected office, had no financial or accounting certifications or accreditations and as a result of her failure and refusal to perform functions and duties that were, by past practice and custom, performed by the controller's office for many years prior to 2008, the commissioners are unable to make informed and sound financial decisions and are asking the court for a judgement in their favor and against the controller together with reasonable costs.

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