CHARLES TOWN — Following a six-month period in which Jefferson County’s administrator and chief financial officer stepped down, county commissioners on Friday morning discussed the findings of a comprehensive audit commissioned there weeks ago.
Among the issues addressed in the audit were the ability of Jefferson County Clerk Jackie Shadle to do his job unhindered throughout its completion, as well as the ability of County Sheriff Tom Hansen to spend the county money and the things it spends it on.
“The county commission cannot oversee or regulate how I spend my money,” Sheriff Hansen said during Friday morning’s special session. “If the county commission gives me $200,000 for cars and I want to spend it all on buying a Lamborghini, I can do that. The thing is, they tell me I can’t buy a certain type of car or spending my money on some problem is wrong.
State Auditor JB McCuskey, who led the team that conducted the audit on the county, agreed with the sheriff in passing the notion to his own experience, noting that it’s as simple as the county send a budget to the sheriff and have the sheriff spend that money.
“Voters can then decide whether buying a Lamborghini is a good idea or not,” McCuskey explained. “You have longer tenures than some, so the idea is that generally these things will resolve in the wash. … The rules are what they are.
At the heart of much of the discussion were the various constitutional roles that county employees take on when they take office. As County Commissioner Steve Stolipher noted in an interview Friday afternoon, he believes the audit addresses Shadle’s concerns during the audit.
“Our county clerk was concerned that she would not be able to perform her constitutional duties, and under county commission policies she was unable to do so,” Stolipher explained. “After this audit, it is very clear that these constitutional duties have not been impeded.”
The audit itself was not intended to be another argumentative tool, McCuskey warned in his opening remarks. In fact, he said, the mere fact that the county decided to pursue an audit was a step forward and an indication that the Eastern Panhandle is fast becoming one of Virginia’s biggest players. -Western.
“This part of West Virginia is growing exponentially,” McCuskey said. “What I see is a place where we have new elected officials and a vibrant electoral base. This causes a bit of friction. It doesn’t have to be negative. There are plenty of counties in the state that wouldn’t even care enough to order that.
“It’s kind of a growing pains report,” he added. “It’s not because anyone did anything illegal or did anything wrong. It is a report which says that we have a commission and officers who are new. He says Jefferson County can be a shining light in West Virginia. If people didn’t try, no one would care. It’s good that people care enough to make us come and do it. On the other hand, I think a lot of these things could have been handled internally. It’s good and bad, but overall these are fixable issues, and they can be fixed in the short term.
As for what happens next, McCuskey said he hopes to be back in six to eight weeks to find that the county has a plan to ensure the changes — which primarily relate to who has what functions and what level of access employees may or may not have within the county matrix – discussed in the audit proceed properly.
Stolipher, meanwhile, was optimistic that Friday’s discussion was a step in the right direction.
“It gives us a clear direction on what we need to do,” he said, “and we need to address some issues in the county in order to have a more effective government.”