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W. Va. Commission and Sheriff Still at Odds Over Bills

July 14--LEWISBURG -- Still more litigation may be in the offing in the continuing dispute between Greenbrier Sheriff James Childers and the county commission.

Commissioner Michael McClung fired the opening salvo in the latest battle, accusing the sheriff of "shenanigans" in the purchase of a new vehicle for his department in the last fiscal year's 11th hour.

McClung, who two weeks ago complained about receiving printouts of the bills to be paid only 20 minutes prior to a vote on those payments, pointed to the sheriff's latest purchase as proof that the commission needs more time to review the submitted invoices.

"Purposely hidden in those (June 28) bills was the purchase of yet another vehicle," McClung stated during Tuesday evening's regular commission session.

He said the sheriff submitted a memo showing expenditures from 12 lines in three separate budgets for the $24,721 vehicle.

"It seems apparent... that the sheriff found a way to get another vehicle," McClung said. "It's not the way to do business. I could not let this go by."

Childers, who did not attend the commission meeting, in a later telephone interview with The Register-Herald denied McClung's implication that the vehicle expenditure was improper.

"I looked at my budget heading into the end of the (fiscal) year, and I had a lot of money left over in a lot of different accounts," Childers said. "So, I decided to purchase another Durango. I didn't hide anything. They (county commissioners) approved it."

He added, "I still had $120,000 to turn back in to the county at the end of the year because of vacancies (in law enforcement deputies). I could've bought three more vehicles, but I didn't. I kept my word and turned that money back in."

Childers said once money is placed in his budget, it is up to him how best to spend it.

As McClung predicted during Tuesday's meeting, Childers said he is now seeking legal counsel to explore his options in suing the commissioners individually for smearing his reputation.

McClung also took another swipe at County Clerk William J. (B.J.) Livesay Sr., who supervises bookkeeper Ryan Grimmett. Grimmett was assigned the blame last month for the delay in providing the bill printout to the commissioners -- a problem that appeared to be caused by computer issues.

McClung asked, "Who in the clerk's office didn't know this (dividing the vehicle purchase among 12 lines) was not correct procedure?"

Grimmett pointed out that when he started working for the county earlier this year, he questioned some of the bookkeeping practices that were already in place but was told they were "acceptable."

"B.J. does not work for us; he's an elected official," McClung said. "We cannot take Ryan's office into our office due to separation of powers."

He added, "But now, we look bad because we approved (the expenditure)."

Commission President Betty Crookshanks agreed with McClung regarding the bookkeeping deficiencies, saying, "We're going to have to make some changes. We'll have to pay two people to do the same work."

It was not immediately clear if the commission will hire an additional employee or include double-checking the bookkeeper's work in the job description of an existing staffer.

"The line items have to be legitimate," Crookshanks said, noting the commission will now require all elected officials to itemize all of their expenditures.

Crookshanks demanded Grimmett tell her who had told him the bookkeeping practices in question were acceptable.

"That's irrelevant," Grimmett retorted.

He added, "If you're fishing for the sheriff, it wasn't him."

Both Crookshanks and McClung denied targeting the sheriff in asking for the identity of the person who gave Grimmett misinformation about bookkeeping practices.

"I'm sure (Livesay) will get to the bottom of this... and will take appropriate action," McClung concluded.

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Finances also dominated the balance of Tuesday's meeting, as Crookshanks advised those in attendance, "The cash flow is tough (this month)."

She said she had approached the state auditor's office for advice about the possibility of the county securing a line of credit and borrowing funds to pay its bills.

"We're not allowed to get a line of credit, according to the auditor," Crookshanks reported.

Although funds are tight, the county will be able to pay its bills this month, she predicted. The coal severance fund contains around $179,000 at this point, and another $100,000 in property tax revenue was paid in June -- half of what was received during that month last year, Crookshanks noted.

The commission has asked all elected officials to avoid any unnecessary expenditures until property tax collections pick back up.

Crookshanks pointed out that the budget is set based in large part on tax revenue projections provided by the county's assessor, while collections fall under the sheriff's purview.

Also, representatives of the Clintonville Volunteer Fire Department appealed to the commission for help in paying a sharp rise in workers' compensation premiums that all of the county's fire companies are starting to see.

The Clintonville unit needs to come up with $8,000 by mid-August or it will be in danger of closing, as are other rural fire departments, according to the information provided.

Crookshanks suggested the firefighters check with the risk pool that provides county government agencies with insurance coverage and ask the state's insurance commissioner for assistance.

"We can't do anything until the lawsuit's settled," she told the Clintonville delegation, referring to a suit filed by the sheriff challenging budget cuts for his department.

Commissioner Karen Lobban expressed a willingness to help with fundraising events for the small, local fire departments that are being caught in the workers' comp crunch.

-- E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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