HAZARD – Perry County Clerk Haven King has failed to pay back more than $29,000 in funds disallowed in previous state audits, according to a new audit released on Monday, which has now been referred to the Perry County Attorney and the Kentucky Attorney General.
State Auditor Adam Edelen released the audit for the 2010 financial statement of the county clerk’s office, a portion of which noted that King should have repaid $29,290 for “disallowed expenditures” first noted in audits from 2007, 2008 and 2009.
An audit of calendar year 2007 completed by the state auditor’s office found a total of $9,593 in disallowed expenditures which should have been paid to the fiscal court in excess fees. According to Monday’s audit, King personally repaid only $605 of that amount.
Auditors are recommending that King personally repay all of the remaining prior year disallowed expenditures and turn that money over to the fiscal court.
An audit of the 2008 statement noted $17,947 in disallowed expenditures, none of which has been repaid. Those expenditures included more than $6,100 for charities set up to aid veterans. According to auditors, the clerk’s office should only pay for expenses in the necessary operation of the office.
King noted, however, that those funds were approved by the fiscal court to promote those charities, and that resulted in thousands of dollars donated by Perry Countians to directly benefit Kentucky veterans.
Auditors also disallowed in 2008 wages paid to office employees to work during the Black Gold Festival in Hazard. Auditors concluded that those employees were working during normal hours and paid in addition to normal wages, and the extra pay was not processed as payroll and no payroll taxes were withheld.
King told the Herald that those employees were conducting voter training on a new batch of electronic voting machines on days that the courthouse and the clerk’s office were closed due to the festival, and not during normal working hours.
“The courthouse was closed, and those people got paid,” he said, adding that clerk’s office employees do not normally work during the festival, and several employees worked into the evening hours as well. He added that his office had routinely conducted training of this kind in other parts of the county, such as at post offices and schools, but no longer does this.
“They didn’t want us to, so we stopped that,” he said.
Other disallowed expenses during that year included personally imprinted items and nearly $4,000 in what was termed as “political expenses” in a letter writing campaign to members of the General Assembly.
An audit of the 2009 calendar year conducted by a CPA disallowed $1,759, none of which, auditors note, has been repaid.
King said corrections have been made to issues raised in 2009, which dealt with payments to members of the Board of Election that, while in line with precinct workers, exceeded the amount board members can be paid by law.
As in previous year audits, King responded that based on a conference with County Attorney John Carl Shackelford, he believes those expenditures in 2007 and 2008 did not violate regulations.
“That’s what my county attorney says,” King said on Tuesday. “And I go by him. If he told me I owed it, I would have paid.”
But according to Stephenie Steitzer, communications director for Auditor Edelen, a 1980 attorney general opinion “affirms that audits carry a presumption of correctness, unless the audit findings are overturned in a lawsuit.” She additionally noted that by law the fiscal court will be required to collect any money due from the clerk’s office.
According to Kentucky Revised Statute 64.820, the fiscal court “shall collect any amount due the county from county officials as determined by the audit of the official” if it can be done so without suit. If a lawsuit is required, however, the fiscal court can direct the county attorney to begin a suit to collect any due funds within 90 days of receiving the auditor’s report.
Perry County Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble said he only recently received the audit, and plans to review it in the coming days.
“We just got the audit, and we’ll go ahead and pursue on whatever the law says we need to do,” Noble said.
In the meantime, the audit has been referred to Perry County Attorney John Carl Shackelford “for further investigation and action by the Perry County Fiscal Court and your office,” according to a letter sent from the state auditor’s office to the county attorney on Tuesday. The matter is also being referred to the attorney general’s office for review.