By Robin Ford Wallace
The Dade County Commission had so little on the agenda
for its regular March meeting on Thursday that the commissioners melded their
work session with their formal business meeting, foregoing the usual break in
But short as the agenda was, the meeting itself was a
marathoner, and Dade stomachs growled uneasy harmony to the siren call of a
plate of doughnuts in the back of the room as a rare but lengthy executive
session prolonged the unhappy separation of attendees from their suppers until
nearly 9 p.m.
Executive sessions – that is, those behind closed
doors, protected from the pricked ears of public and press – are legal only for
discussing certain narrowly defined subjects, and before calling the session,
Executive Chairman Ted Rumley announced that the commission would be tackling
more or less all of them, including: prospective sale or lease of property;
personnel issues; and records exempt from open records law.
The latter two items were particularly ear-pricking to
public and press because the last order of business before the executive
session was called had been a dramatic demand from a taxpayer, during the
citizens’ participation portion of the meeting, for the suspension of a county
employee whose handling of county funds appeared impeached by public records
the taxpayer had examined.
Citizen Joy York had stood up to challenge the county
commission, and especially the county attorney, on their retention of a payroll
clerk who records indicated, and an audit recommendation had pointed out, paid
herself fluctuating and often generous amounts from pay period to pay period,
as detailed in an earlier Sentinel.
Ms. York said Chairman Rumley had told her the
impugned clerk retained her job on the attorney’s advice lest she sue the
county. “I don’t understand how someone can steal money from the county and go
to court and sue us for firing her for stealing,” said Ms. York.
The attorney dismissed her demands with a generalized
statement: “We looked at all the information and we acted as we felt
appropriate based on the information we had. If there’s additional information,
we’ll happy to take a look at that.”
But Ms. York persisted: “Did you do any further
research after the transgressions were brought to your attention?”
Rogers said he wouldn’t discuss with Ms. York
personnel issues or any past or future investigation by the county. “We’ll
continue to monitor it,” he said.
Ms. York was not to be quashed so
easily, though, and pressed on to the matter of 1099s she said the payroll
clerk should have, but had not, issued herself for additional county money
she’d received for cleaning the courthouse as a contract laborer. “That has IRS
implications for this county,” she said.
A 1099 is a federal government form reporting income – usually taxable income –
paid to a non-employee, as a matter of accounting and as a way of ensuring the
proper taxes will be paid on it.
Ms. York said that only two 1099s had been issued for
the courthouse cleaning, a 2007 one that had been later corrected downward, and
one for a separate year for only $800.
Actually, she said, from 2007 onward, the payroll
clerk had paid herself and another employee anywhere from $3- to $600 a month
to clean the courthouse.
Rumley said that matter was one the county was looking
into, and one that wasn’t over.
“Until it is over, as a taxpayer whose money she’s
handling, and misappropriating, clearly, I think she should be suspended,” said
Ms. York. She said the employee should not be “continuing to play with the
“I assure you, we’ll be reporting back to the people,”
After the meeting, Rumley elucidated that payroll
clerk Jennifer Hodnick and accounting clerk Melissa Smith had in fact
contracted to clean the old county courthouse beginning in 2006 or 2007,
following the departure of a woman who had done it as a regular part-time gig
for many years.
He said the practice of the commission’s
administrative staff doing the cleaning had started during the tenure of his
predecessor as county executive, Ben Brandon, and had continued during his own
term until the new county courthouse was opened in autumn 2010. The larger
floor space of the new facility had necessitated the hiring of a full-timer
cleaner, he said.
Rumley reiterated that the county had retained its
payroll clerk on the advice of counsel but: “It was not a one-person
And he rejected the notion that
he was keeping the compromised clerk on because she “knew too much” about his
administration. “Everything I’ve got is open,” he said. In any case, he said,
it was impossible to please everybody. “I’m just thankful to be here,” said
But back to the March 7 meeting: Rogers, Rumley and
the other commissioners returned from their closed-door session to a room still
filled with pricked ears, but by then a little thin in the doughnut department,
to announce they had made no decisions as to personnel or as to either of the
other secret topics.