ERIE – Conflict between two Neosho County commissioners flared Thursday evening.
1st District Commissioner Paul Westhoff and 2nd District Commissioner David Orr clashed during routine matters at Thursday’s commission meeting until Westhoff walked out. The issues included Westhoff’s desire to rescind a vote in the meeting minutes, his mileage reimbursement and Orr’s questions about a bid opening.
Soon after the start of the meeting, Westhoff said during the approval of the minutes of the last meeting that he wanted to rescind a vote at a previous meeting to fire a 911 employee.
Orr opposed allowing him to rescind the vote, and said Westhoff previously changed his vote on the speed limit on 160th Road through Shaw between Elk Road and K-146. Westhoff denied changing his vote then and voted Thursday against approving the minutes.
County Counselor Seth Jones said he did not know the procedure for rescinding a vote, but later during the comments from the public, rural Galesburg resident Shirley Estrada suggested reconsidering the motion to terminate the employee. The commissioners voted to reconsider the firing and planned an executive session to discuss the specific employee.
But after the vote, the issue of Westhoff’s mileage claims came up during approval to pay bills.
Orr objected to some of the traveling Westhoff reported, which included attending meetings and driving roads involved in construction of the Neosho Ridge Wind project. Orr said he himself had mileage and he decided not to seek reimbursement. Orr also said Westhoff should have gotten prior approval from the commission on the trips before seeking reimbursement.
Jones said commissioners’ mileage reimbursement was a judgement call and was based on what was “reasonable and necessary.”
Orr also raised issues with a news interview Westhoff gave after a Labette County meeting in Oswego where Westhoff criticized his fellow Neosho County commissioners.
3rd District Commissioner Gail Klaassen said she would not vote for Westhoff’s reimbursement, and Westhoff walked out of the meeting. Klaassen and Orr then voted to approve payment of bills excepting Westhoff’s mileage.
Westhoff returned soon afterwards for a series of closed executive sessions.
Orr faced questions during the public comment portion of the meeting from Becky Westhoff (Paul’s wife) over the bid opening issue, for which both Orr and County Clerk Heather Elsworth accepted responsibility. The commission was scheduled to discuss bids from financial institutions to finance a road grader with Archie Moffett of Foley Equipment.
But Jones announced the bid envelopes were opened before another bid arrived. The commission accepted his recommendation to reject all the bids and seek re-bidding.
Orr said he telephoned the county clerk’s office to ask who had bid, which is why the envelopes were opened. He said he did not seek dollar amounts.
Becky Westhoff questioned whether Orr as a commissioner should have asked to know who had bid if the general public could not also know. She said the board members are not commissioners outside of a meeting.
The financial bids will be taken until Nov. 20, the day before the commission’s next meeting.
She also questioned a proposal by Orr during earlier discussion for a centralized printer at the courthouse. She said that had the potential for misuse of confidential employee information. Orr offered the proposal as an example of how his business does printing.
The commission was meeting with Trevor Holman of Advantage Computer, who presented an inventory overview of the county’s computer hardware and operating systems by department, with quotes on replacement and upgrades. The matter was tabled.
Commissioners also discussed Advantage’s travel reimbursement billing with Holman after a report on the expense from 911 Director Lori Nally.
In other business, auditor Rodney Burns reported on the 2018 audit and said the county’s accounting had material weaknesses in its internal control.
Burns said the same problem was part of the previous year’s audit. He said 2018 was a difficult year to audit because the county had a new treasurer and new computer system, but 2019 should be better.
Burns asked the commission to pass resolutions to waive generally-accepted accounting principles for 2018 and 2019. The resolutions are routinely done at the start of the year to put the county on cash-basis accounting, but Burns said he can’t find the resolutions for those years. He said they may not have been done.
He said 2018 did not have any cash-basis violations, although some accounts went over budget projections, in some cases because the accounts were closed.
Previous reports have said the county treasurer was not reconciling accounts, Burns said. Consequently, the county has $20,936 more in the bank than it shows due to interest and other factors. In some cases, payments were made twice such as unemployment taxes for the fourth quarter. The county also paid more to Blue Cross-Blue Shield for employee insurance than was shown on salary deductions.
Burns also said there were accounting issues because the County Attorney’s office was not depositing diversion revenue soon enough.
Because of the unexpected funds available, Klaassen proposed increasing the sheriff’s office budget without a tax increase. The commission approved the transfer of $120,000 to the sheriff’s office effective January 2020.
Commissioners voted to accept the 2018 audit and contracted Burns to audit 2019.
Also approved was a contract with Blue Cross-Blue Shield for next year’s employee insurance. Klaassen said she wanted to compare the contract with last year, but the company wants the contract back before the next meeting. Orr said the contract has a 10.5 percent increase, but keeps the county with IMA at $25,000.
Westhoff again asked the Tribune to publicize his gratitude to property owners who mowed rights-of-way on their property during the summer.
The commission tabled decisions on how to handle $50,000 in funding provided by Apex Clean Energy for additional delivery routes for construction of the Neosho Ridge project.
Klaassen said the engineering firm Kirkham and Michael seeks $20,000 to oversee the additional roads during the construction project and $1,000 per day in extra site visits.
Orr said there is a public perception that engineer Tanner Yost is some form of police.
“His job is about structures,” he said.
Westhoff said $200,000 is not enough for what the engineering firm is doing.
“Somebody needs to keep eyes on them,” he said.
During the public commentary, LeRoy Burk, Galesburg, said the construction is damaging gravel roads at 7500 Harper Road.
“They’re expecting you guys to spend your money,” Burk said. “I don’t think us as county taxpayers should do that.”
He said if Apex uses the roads, it should put down gravel.
“They need to start sharing this expense on these roads,” Burk said. “They’re short-changing us.”
James Simon, rural Erie, said a construction site is going in less than the required 1,640 feet from his non-participating property.
Project site manager Jason Martindale took information from Simon and Burk about the issues.
Westhoff also read a letter concerning trucks on 70th Road west of Galesburg.