County treasurer blasts lack of oversight, accuracy and transparency
Rappahannock County Treasurer Debbie Knick is accusing her own county government of mismanagement, including failure to follow proper expense and payroll procedures and lack of oversight of budgeting and spending by senior county officials.
“I know of no other way to get the board’s attention and make them aware and to ensure that corrective procedures are put into place,” Knick wrote in a Feb. 15 letter to Rappahannock County Supervisors Roger Welch, Chris Parrish, John Lesinski, Mike Biniek and Ron Frazier.
In particular, Knick was sharply critical of Rappahannock County Administrator Debbie Keyser, who has been in her post almost eight months, for the “amount of mistakes and the apparent lack of oversight and miscommunication” when conducting official business.
The treasurer went so far as to accuse the administrator of making false statements about the county’s “new” computer system being to blame for less than transparent monthly credit card purchases by senior county officials.
“I asked Ms. Keyser if she had in fact made the statements . . . regarding the ‘new’ computer system causing [the] issue of lack of specific disclosures,” Knick wrote to the board. “Ms. Keyser insisted that she had not made those comments. I then watched and listen[ed] to the video of the February 6th BOS [supervisors’] meeting where she on multiple occasions did in fact make those statements.”
Said Knick: “It was not a matter of the computer system not being properly set up but rather the correct process to ensure transparency and accuracy in budgeting was not adhered to.”
Among her grievances lodged to the supervisors, Knick cited cases of “overpayment” of county funds, including one recent instance involving former Rappahannock County Commonwealth’s Attorney Peter Luke and his successor Art Goff.
“Yesterday Mr. Luke came to me and said that he was overpaid,” revealed Knick, adding that she immediately pulled three invoices submitted by the attorney. Apparently at least one of the invoices was mismatched and an overpayment was processed.
“Invoice #3 wasn’t Mr. Luke’s at all but instead Mr. Goff’s who has since been paid through payroll for this invoice,” Knick said.
“Mr. Luke has not cashed the check for $6,832.50. I will be voiding that check and canceling Invoices #2 and #3. Mr. Luke will be issued a new check in March for #1. There was also an issue with Mr. Luke’s January 31, 2017 payroll check where he had been overpaid. He and I discussed this and I told him he would have to take that to Ms. Keyser to correct and that I would explain the accounts payable to the board.
“Thankfully Mr. Luke brought this to my attention; otherwise it would not have been detected,” Knick added.
In addition, the treasurer cited what might best be described as sloppy oversight of credit card purchases by the six senior Rappahannock County officials who are assigned business credit cards.
The six include Knick and Keyser, as well as circuit court clerk Peggy Ralph, sheriff Connie Compton, registrar Kim McKiernan, and Richie Burke, emergency services/management coordinator. In addition, there are Lowe’s Home Improvement and Staples office supply credit cards used by some of the above county officials for maintenance and emergency services.
“There is no policy for cardholders, no signed agreement, etc.,” Knick pointed out. “I sent an email to Ms. Keyser and told her we needed a policy. I also asked her for a list of authorized signers. She agreed and listed things she had to do and would put it on the list, but didn’t have time.”
Among her criticisms, Knick wrote that “Mr. Burke is constantly having issues with his card being over his credit limit,” adding that recently “we had just received credit card bills for the months of October and November  from Mr. Burke 3 [three] months late.
“Late fees and interest have been charged to his card,” she said, adding that in some of Burke’s other charges “numbers don’t match up.”
“This issue has taken countless hours to untangle and is still ongoing,” the treasurer said.
Awaiting a county policy on credit card use, Knick said she has met with a bank “regarding a type of . . . purchasing card which could be set up for cardholders that would limit where purchases could be made.”
Reached Tuesday for comment, Keyser told the Rappahannock News: “Suggestions have been made for procedures which are very different than how things have been historically processed. I’m sure the board will consider all suggestions and if they adopt new processes, then our office will move forward accordingly.”
A former chief administrator for Jefferson County, W.V. but with Rappahannock roots, Keyser was hired to replace John McCarthy, who spent 30 years as the county’s administrator. Suffice to say whatever county policies and procedures are in place today were likely inherited by Keyser.
“Our system provides a good financial package with customization still desired to meet our needs,” Keyser said. “The recent implementation of a new payroll system will help to link with the current financial package to improve our reporting power.”
Finally, Keyser noted: “Continuous improvement and teamwork is vital for any organization, but requires prioritization of projects, financial resources, and manpower.”
Knick, who has been in her post for two years, explained that she wrote the letter to the supervisors to both “clarify” statements that were made at their Feb. 6 meeting “and to express my concern regarding the lack of procedures within the county government.”
Mostly, she was “compelled” to write after a Letter to the Editor appeared in the Feb. 9 edition of the Rappahannock News, in which Castleton resident Michael A. Cioffi drew attention to “questionable county expenses,” including the recent purchases of two vehicles “neither of which were specifically disclosed as such on the county’s computerized expense ledger.”
Cioffi said his concerns were all but ignored by the supervisors when he attended the February meeting.
“In summary, one supervisor believes that the board owes us fiscal responsibility, one does not, and three don’t care,” charged Cioffi, adding it “seems the board is not keen on letting their electorate express their thoughts or concerns.”
Indeed, Knick wrote that she too “questioned the validity of the purchase” of an Emergency/911 SUV apparently for Burke’s use. Keyser “told me she was going to speak with Mr. Burke and have him write a justification for the purchase,” Knick pointed out.
“The point I want to make here is this purchase was known and discussed by the board and Ms. Keyser,” the treasurer said. “I discussed this at length with Ms. Keyser and also had a meeting later with Mr. Lesinski expressing my concern of lack of transparency of this purchase.”
Finally, Knick recommended ways to improve the process when staff submits everything from invoices to purchasing requests.
“The process should be quite simple, if you need to purchase something that is not in your budget then you should contact the county administrator and ask to be put on the agenda and present your need to the board for their decision,” Knick wrote. “This would allow for accuracy in budgeting for the future, proper allocation of funds and transparency.”
Patty Hardee contributed to this story