Ravalli County’s Money Problems Snowball;
TEA Party Commissioners Call Disaster “Nothing Unusual”
Old fashioned investigative journalism and public records research by the Bitterroot Star have uncovered some troubling new information in Ravalli County’s ongoing TEA Party financial mismanagement scandal. It turns out there is an unanswered legal judgement in South Carolina against Ravalli County Treasurer Valerie Stamey.
She is alleged to have deceived a bank by getting a home refinance loan for $17,000 to make a payment to her credit card bill–then using the same check she got from the bank to make two payments totalling $34,000 for that amount–one electronic over the phone and once through the mail.
A South Carolina court ordered Stamey to pay back the bank the second $17,000 (which they had never loaned her) but but she allegedly made only one payment of $750. As the Star reports, “No other payments were ever received. She subsequently moved to Montana.”
When asked if she had resolved the issues over the judgment against her in South Carolina, she told the County Commission, “That doesn’t have anything to do with my situation here with my office. I am working towards a resolution.”
So it seems Ravalli’s Commissioners didn’t bother to do research before appointing this woman. Nor did they inquire into why she’s been using so many different names. As the Bitterroot Star reports, the treasurer applied for the Ravalli County Treasurer’s position in 2010 under the name Valerie Stamey, but was not selected. Then she worked in food service at the Missoula County Public School District under the name Valerie Addis. The same person was appointed treasurer under the name Valerie Stamey last fall, but now gets her paychecks from the county under the name Valerie Scott.
Since then, whoever she has has overseen a dizzying array of financial problems, including millions in late or unmade payments and bills, uncollected taxes, backlogs, oddities, tens of thousands of checks stuffed in drawers, and unanswered questions from cities, schools, and fire departments wondering whether they’ll be able to continue to provide emergency services.
Yet the TEA Party Commissioners appear to be attempting to blow off the growing scandal, or sweep it quickly under the rug.
Nothing to See Here Folks, Move Along Please
Commissioner Suzy Foss referred to the scandal as a “transition period for a new treasurer” saying six months of this kind of thing was “not unusual or out of bounds. Indeed, Foss claimed that and that “many other counties have this type of problem” and that she knew of another county with “similar transition problems going on now for eight months but couldn’t remember which county that was.” Right.
Another commissioner tried to deny responsibility for the disaster by saying that it was all out of his hands.
But state law does give the county commissioners power over the Treasurer. If the treasurer fails to make proper reports the commissioners can fine the treasurer, yet they haven’t done so and the requisite reports aren’t done. They have the power to supervise all county officers that deal with money, and can suspend a treasurer from office in some circumstances related to official misconduct. The Bitterroot Star lists the statutes here.
Scandal Continues to Grow
There is more to come out on this scandal. While the TEA party commissioners try to claim this is normal or that that the problem is out of their hands, the Bitterroot Star is continuing to search out the truth.
It appears that there is a human rights complaint against Ravalli County that has yet to come to light.
The Star has submitted a public information request for the records related the complaint against their own county government, but for some reason the Human Rights Commission is forcing the star to get a lawyer and pay thousands in legal and copying fees. [See this PDF of the request for information on the complaint.]
Having to pay big bucks to get public information may be no big deal to large money making machines like Lee Newspapers, but to a small town, locally-owned independent paper intent on actually reporting the workings of its public servants, it’s another story.
But even if you don’t subscribe for the shocking coverage of Ravalli County’s government, do it to see how a real local paper is putting the state’s major dailies to shame by actually engaging in investigative journalism as opposed to running oil and gas company ads as fake news, waiting for pre-packaged tips to fall into their laps or simply running “he said, she said” style quotes from the political candidates and considering the matter closed.
You can also make a contribution to the public information request fund, which this locally-owned paper can’t really afford, by sending a check to the Bitterroot Star with “Human Rights Complaint” written in the memo to: 215 Main St., PO Box 8, Stevensville, MT 59870.
Finally, remember that the TEA Party Republicans want control of the next legislature, but look what’s happening now that they have control of Ravalli County and consider whether that’s a good idea.