County Exec Takes Treasurer to Woodshed
Memo from county executive blame Stokes for oversight, but errors abound amidst new software implementation
By Brandi Makuski
Portage Co. Treasurer Stephanie Stokes failed to approve more than 150 electronic payments totaling over $215K, according to County Executive Patty Dreier.
In a memo to the Portage Co. Finance Committee dated May 16, Dreier wrote the payments should have approved by Stokes on Friday, May 13 but were not.
The problem was identified only after a county employee came forward with a complaint of mileage reimbursement not being deposited into their checking account.
“That led to finance [department] discovering that 153 ACH deposits in a total amount of $215,575.17 to employees and vendors were not released through our online banking system by you on Friday,” Dreier’s memo read in part.
The transactions were later approved by finance dept. staff, and deposits were completed by May 17, according to the memo.
“It was your responsibility to see to it that these transactions were processed properly and completely,” Dreier wrote to Stokes. “I note that last week, you made time to pen a letter to the editors of local newspapers touring your competence and skills. Yet, these transactions were not processed appropriately on Friday.”
While lax oversight within the treasurer’s office was identified in a 2013 audit by accounting firm Baker-Tilly, the memo is the first public document released by the county identifying a specific problem with Stokes’ work.
Dreier distributed the memo to members of the finance committee on May 26. The memo was not included in the meeting packet and was only available to the media by request.
“I thought this was important enough to have the oversight committee notified,” Dreier told the finance committee. “So I have also sent this to them.”
The 2013 audit, which county officials said was routine and conducted in several departments, noted several deficiencies in the treasurer’s office, to include lack of control over access to the county’s checking account and wire transfers, no policy related to investment management, lack of “overall accounting and finance knowledge” and a lack of policy relating to reconciliation and reporting requirements.
The county has since installed a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) financial system using Munis Software, replacing the county’s outdated AS/400 system and streamlining the county’s finances. The new system was installed about a year ago, according to Finance Director Jennifer Jossie.
County board response — or lack thereof
Stoke’s deputy treasurer, Amy Townsend, resigned last September after a closed-door meeting with Dreier and other county officials, but Dreier would not comment on the nature of the meeting, or if it was related to the audit.
Several members of the county’s finance committee say that Stokes, who was first elected to the office in 2004, has provided follow-up reports to the committee indicating how improvements were made in her office following the audit, but those reports were verbal and no record of the details exist in the committee’s meeting minutes.
“You’d have to take that [audit] report to Stephanie’s office and ask her what she’s done to improve things, bullet-by-bullet, but that would take weeks,” said Jeanne Dodge, a member of the finance committee, last October. “I don’t think she submitted any reports in writing.”
Jossie said Stokes has appeared before the finance committee “multiple times between 2013 and earlier this year” but referred all questions relating to the investigation to Portage Co. Corporation Counsel Mike McKenna’s office.
In turn, McKenna has been unable to provide any comment on the issue, as he was excluded from a closed session meeting on Jan. 18 when an outside law firm was hired to conduct a forensic accounting investigation into Stokes’ office. Two complaints have since been filed — one by McKenna himself — with the district attorney’s office alleging that meeting took place illegally. That investigation is ongoing, but separate from the one related to Stokes’ office.
Both Idsvoog and Gifford say they expect the results of the investigation into the treasurer’s office to be available “soon” but had no specific timeline.
“Let’s wait until the investigation is over then we’ll see what the conclusion is,” Idsvoog said after the May 26 meeting, adding the board would likely not take any action until the results were available.
Software problem or human error?
“Please tell me the ERP system is not as big a disaster as some letters to the paper would indicate,” Chairman Gifford said to Jossie at the May 26 meeting.
“There’s just so much to learn, so much to re-educate,” Jossie said, who added the new software system is being implemented in phases. “In that sense I feel we’re doing okay.”
When Dodge asked Jossie if she was “sure” the 153 ACH transactions weren’t missed because of a problem with Munis, Jossie nodded her head and replied, “Sure.”
According to Jossie, the release on electronic funds requires the approval of two people before processing.
“So how could something like this happen?” Asked Idsvoog.
Jossie said her office has offered training for all county employees on the new ERP system, but not all of them have taken the class.
“We’ve invited a lot of people to training, but I will tell you the numbers for training are low,” Jossie said. “I think a lot of people think they don’t need it, or they don’t have the time, but we’ve offered it more than one time a month, we’ve gone on site with departments if they’ve asked us to. Sometimes we don’t have the answers because we’re learning the system, too.”
It was not immediately clear why training on the new software wasn’t a requirement for all county employees.
Stokes said she’s retained legal counsel, and her response to the investigation has been brief.
“I have so many comments it’s ridiculous, but I’ve been advised by my lawyer to not talk to anyone,” Stokes said on Friday. “I will be able to talk soon, but I just can’t yet.”
The Portage Co. Finance Committee meets next on June 6 at 7 AM. It was not immediately known if Stokes would be present at that meeting, or if the committee planned to discuss Dreier’s memo further.