The first meeting of the Antelope County Commissioners Tuesday, Jan. 8, with a majority of the board members new to the office, was filled with surprises, tense discussion, questions, disagreement and a phone call.
As the meeting began, newly-elected Commissioner Tom Borer was selected as chairman on a split 3-2 vote.
Allan Bentley made a motion to nominate Borer and Dean Smith seconded.
Eli Jacob made a motion to nominate himself as chair with Charlie Henery providing the second.
By roll call vote; Borer, Bentley and Smith voted in favor of Borer with Henery and Jacob voting no.
Bentley nominated Smith as vice-chair with Borer seconding. Jacob nominated himself as vice-chair with Henery seconding.
A roll call vote for Jacob was held first with the motion failing 2-3 (Jacob and Henery voting yes and Borer, Bentley and Smith voting no).
A roll call vote for Smith for vice-chairman was then held with all five voting in favor.
Discussion, prior to the votes and following, was held on the legality of the board chairman making and seconding motions was held. The commissioners requested advice from County Attorney Joe Abler on the matter.
Abler said the chairman has the same rights as other board members. “A chairperson can make motions,” he said.
Individuals were appointed to the various county committees, with discussion of adding a finance committee. The matter was placed on the agenda at the request of Bentley. He told those present he visited with Assistant Deputy Auditor Deann Haeffner with the State of Nebraska about creation of a finance committee.
He said one of the issues raised in an APA report to county officials was the segregation of duties in various county offices and with the county overall. Bentley said Haeffner told him creation of a finance committee may help alleviate the lack of segregation of duties.
Bentley also addressed the last five annual audits performed by the Nebraska State Auditor’s office and said there had been no response from commissioners to the auditor as to the findings.
One issue raised in the 2018 audit was the failure of the county attorney to foreclose on eight parcels from the delinquent tax listing, as directed by the Antelope County Commissioners on May 8, 2018.
Bentley recited from Nebraska State Statute, “Any county treasurer, county attorney or member of the county board who willfully fails, neglects or refuses to perform the duties imposed by such sections shall be guilty of official misdemeanor and subject to removal from office. If the county board fails to dismiss the county attorney for failure to foreclose liens, the county board shall be removed. Any member of a county board who, upon a motion duly made by one member of such board to remove a county attorney from office who has failed to foreclose liens, does not vote for such motion or any member who votes to retain a county attorney in office after it has been brought to the board’s attention that he or she has failed to foreclose liens shall be subject to removal from office as provided in sections 23-2001 to 23-2009.”
He said, “I want everyone to understand, I’m not attacking anybody or pointing fingers at anybody.”
Bentley said one of the issues in an audit was an inventory of county properties and transfers of funds.
Payne told Bentley those issues had already been remedied.
He addressed receipts not submitted within 90 days and questioned receipts from Walmart as well as Menards rebates.
“I think we need to investigate that,” said Bentley.
Henery wanted to know why the issues were being addressed without the county attorney and county sheriff present.
Bentley also questioned county department budgets. He said, “We also have been in violation of expenditures in excess of budgets.”
He said an advantage of a finance committee would be oversight of individual budgets.
“The sheriff and county attorney, there’s enough issues in here and financial issues and questions and missing funds or misappropriating funds. I did not get elected to start spending money for this county but I’m a little nervous that this is above me and I think we should probably hire a third party auditor, maybe the same one, (and we can talk to her about that) to further investigate how to fix those issues.”
Borer asked Jacob and Henery if the prior board addressed the five years of audits.
“Did you, or did you not (address the audits) is my question,” said Borer.
Jacob said he would have to review prior board minutes.
Smith asked if the county attorney was “instructed to get his finances in order, to get his accounts in order. Was he brought up here before the board?”
Payne said the auditor was good about pointing out inconsistencies and the auditor would “educate or coach” departments on methods to fix issues.
She explained during the auditor’s exit interview, the auditors would meet with herself and the board chairman.
A phone call, lasting 30 minutes, was then placed to Haeffner.
In regard to creation of a finance committee, Haeffner said the finance committee could consist of “certain board members appointed to review claims in more detail.”
Smith asked Haeffner to review a management letter accompanying the 2018 audit, dated Oct. 22 and sent to the commissioners.
Haeffner said, “I have had discussions, recently, with the county attorney and county sheriff to correct those issues.”
She clarified she spoke to Abler on Friday, Jan. 4 and Moore on Monday, Jan. 7.
Haeffner said standard procedure following a state auditor’s audit is for the auditors to discuss findings with each department. A draft audit is then sent to the commissioners with each department having 10 days to respond to the draft. If responses are received, they are included with the final report. If no response is received, that is also noted. In regard to the 2018 audit, Haeffner said the state auditor received a response from the county treasurer and the county board noting they received the report and did not note any errors.
Henery asked if the findings were “out of the ordinary or critical actions. She said her office doesn’t label the report as critical or not critical, however later in the meeting, Bentley said the audit letter did include the word “critical.”
Haeffner said it is a common problem to have balancing issues in sheriffs’ offices. “A lot of times the people hired by the sheriff’s office were hired for law enforcement. A lot of them are not hired as bookkeepers."
She continued, “With the county attorney’s office, we don’t usually see balancing as a big problem. A lot of the county attorneys across the state do not receive money. They send their money directly to the treasurer.”
Haeffner said in regard to property foreclosures, state law says what has to be done. “You don’t get to decide.”
She said not only is it an issue of the county not receiving the funds, its other taxing entities such as school districts, fire departments, technical colleges, etc. not receiving taxes.
She said if the county attorney refused to proceed with foreclosures, the next step recommended would be to contact the State Attorney General’s office.
Henery said although a motion wasn’t made at a prior meeting, discussion around the (commissioners’) table was asking the attorney to not foreclose on the properties as they weren’t worth foreclosure proceedings.
Henery asked Jacob to confirm the prior discussion, which he did.
Haeffner said the commissioners could have that discussion, “but you can’t override statute.”
Following the call, Smith gave an animated monologue and criticized the prior board for having discussion about withdrawing foreclosure proceedings without making a motion.
He said, “There was a recommendation to foreclose on some properties and that wasn’t done.” He reminded the board of the May motion to direct the county attorney to foreclose.
Smith said, “I thought the county attorney was negligent with what he'd done. It looks to me, it’s not his fault.”
He said, “I wish the other three were here right now.”
Smith continued, “In my mind, the county attorney isn’t even responsible. I thought coming into this, we were going to have a serious discussion with Joe. That’s disturbing to me.”
Bentley asked Payne to present the minutes from May in which the motion to foreclose was made.
She said the motion was made by Henery and seconded by Jacob to send the properties to the county attorney for foreclosure. By roll call vote, the motion was approved by Henery and Jacob as well as former commissioners Ed Schindler and LeRoy Kerkman. Former commissioner Jerry Schwager abstained.
Abler told the board Tuesday, it cost the county more to foreclose on the properties than the taxes.
He said he would begin foreclosure proceedings now. “I didn’t understand completely, but Deanna (Haeffner) cleared it up for me. You have to foreclose on the properties.”
According to the Antelope County Treasurer, the eight parcels ordered for foreclosure are owned by Tamra Scholl of Ericson; Charles and Helen Kniffen in care of John Kniffen of Freehold, N.J.; Miguel and Elizabeth Almendariz of St. James, Minn.; Glenn Rundquist of Briar, Wash.; Josephine Hansen of Neligh; Ned and Tina Bertschinger of Ewing and two parcels owned by James and Yvonne Cooper of Orchard.
Moore then addressed the commissioners about the audit. He said on the day the auditors came to the law enforcement center, they were told of money in a bag in a safe.
Moore said he never received the auditor’s report and that he was not aware of the 10 days response time.
Regarding findings by the auditor’s office of accounts not collected dating back to 2010, Moore said, “Guess who was the sheriff in 2010? It was (Darryl) Hamilton.”
He told the commissioners his discussion with Haeffner, Monday, centered around addressing the old accounts. He said Haeffner told him to submit the accounts to the county board and have them written off as bad debt.
Moore told those present he is on his fourth bookkeeper for the jail and commended the present one.
“I have done nothing to Antelope County to hurt this county. I am here to tell you that nothing is alarming. There are zero dollars missing in this county.”
Payne told the board, “I feel all of us previous employees that have been here prior to you guys taking this board today, are on trial.
I feel we are on trial and I don’t think it’s fair."