HAMILTON – The Ravalli County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to immediately place controversial treasurer Valerie Stamey on administrative leave with pay pending further investigation.
The county sheriff was dispatched to escort her from the building after the meeting concluded, but Stamey had already left.
The county changed the locks at the treasurer’s office, the combination to the safe and removed Stamey’s access to all financial institutions associated with the county, said Commissioner J.R. Iman.
The decision to require Stamey’s departure was made at a meeting expressly set to give the treasurer an opportunity to offer the commission and public an explanation about a civil judgment she faced in South Carolina.
Stamey both refused to attend the meeting or provide a written explanation about the matter to commission chairman Greg Chilcott.
Instead, the treasurer used her monthly update meeting two days earlier to fire off a list of accusations against two commissioners and other past and present county employees.
That may have served as the final straw for a commission that had been under siege for months since making her appointment to the position in September.
During Stamey’s four-month tenure, three of the office’s most experienced employees quit, citing a hostile work environment, and the treasurer’s office fell months behind in providing disbursements and financial reports to local government entities.
On Thursday, Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman said Stamey’s inability to do the job was impacting virtually everyone who lived in Ravalli County.
“The business of the county is grinding to a halt over this matter,” Hoffman told the commission. “My office can’t do our work because the treasurer isn’t doing her work. The treasurer does not know what she is doing and it’s affecting every aspect of Ravalli County.”
Ravalli County Attorney and Auditor Bill Fulbright said that his office is in the process of seeking independent parties to perform both a full audit and an investigation of the treasurer’s office.
Fulbright said the decision was made after Stamey’s accusations of corruption against commissioners Iman and Chilcott, as well as others associated with county government.
“The landscape clearly changed on Tuesday,” Fulbright said.
Fulbright said he will give free rein to outside investigators to use Stamey’s accusations as a springboard to take a hard look at the treasurer’s office and other county entities.
On Thursday morning, Stamey’s attorney, Robert Myers of Hamilton, distributed copies of a letter he had mailed earlier in the day to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s inspector general, asking that agency to complete its own investigation of what Stamey called a “serious lapse in security” to protect federal funds from misappropriation.
In an accompanying letter to the county commissioners, Myers asked that Chilcott and Iman recuse themselves from acting on matters dealing with the treasurer’s office. Since Stamey has accused them of “corrupt activities,” Myers said the commissioners had a conflict of interest.
Both commissioners said the accusations were untrue and they would not recuse themselves.
“These accusations are completely without merit,” Chilcott said. “I want to make it clear, there is no truth in these allegations at all.”
In her Tuesday statement, Stamey accused Iman of threatening her and depriving her access to personal accounts and the combination to the county’s safe.
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Iman said Thursday that he was assigned by the commission to act as a liaison to Stamey in an effort to provide information about upcoming deadlines.
Iman said he met with her once before she complained about their interaction, and that assignment was then turned over commission chair Jeff Burrows and the human resources director. That was the only extended contact Iman had with her, he said.
“These allegations are wholly untrue,” Iman said.
Burrows also responded to Stamey’s allegations that she reached out to him and he didn’t respond.
“There were some allegations made against me that her pleas for help fell on deaf ears,” Burrows said. “I’m not aware of what those pleas were. There were no pleas made.”
The Thursday morning meeting was set by Chilcott to give Stamey an opportunity to explain a 2010 default judgment that alleged she cashed an $18,149 check twice that she received from a law firm involved in refinancing her home.
Chilcott said Stamey was given three opportunities to explain herself and each time failed to respond.
“To me, it raises concerns about her ability to perform the duties of the treasurer,” Chilcott said.
The commissioners’ meeting room was packed, with spectators peering in through both doors from the hallways.
After hearing from a number of people who urged the commission to act as soon as possible to remove the treasurer, the board carefully considered a number of state statutes in an effort to find a way to legally suspend Stamey from her duties.
Burrows made the motion to place her on administrative leave with pay pending further investigation. Foss seconded the motion.
Burrows, Foss and Ron Stoltz voted to hire Stamey in September.
On Thursday, Foss made an effort to distance herself from allegations that Stamey’s appointment was political. Stamey and her husband are precinct captains with the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee.
Foss said her county hiring decisions are never based on political connections. She said she focuses her hiring decisions based on a person’s ability.
“I go for the right person,” she said.
Burrows said his decision to keep Stamey on the payroll was made after he determined there were no statutes that applied to this situation that would allow the commission to immediately suspend or fire her without pay.
The commission could suspend Stamey without pay in the case of misconduct, but that would take a few days for the legal paperwork to be entered in district court.
The commission named Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg and Deputy Treasurer Dan Whitesitt as interim points of contact for the treasurer’s office.
The commission hopes to name an interim treasurer sometime early next week, Iman said.