Local

Ada County Commission takes treasurer to task

When the Boise Food Land Co., a restaurant-site owner, learned it may have overpaid thousands of dollars in local property taxes, the company contacted Ada County Treasurer Vicky McIntyre’s Office to seek a refund.

The treasurer could not provide records needed to determine if Boise Food Land was right, County Commission Chairman Jim Tibbs said. So the company sued. County attorneys created a probable scenario and determined that the business did overpay. The county settled the case for more than $19,000, Tibbs said, and a judge dismissed it last month.

When Civic Partners, a California company that developed the Ada County Courthouse and Civic Plaza Apartments on East Front Street, received a tax delinquency notice, it told McIntyre that it had already paid the taxes. Civic Partners’ check was later found in her desk drawer, according to Tibbs.

Incidents like these prompted the three county commissioners to send a letter Sept. 28 to McIntyre ticking off concerns they had about her job performance. The complaints ranged from what Tibbs said could be some potentially criminal activity by her staff to personnel-management problems, including staff turnover that reached 48 percent last year.

The commissioners punished McIntyre in what Tibbs contends is the only way they could: by denying her a pay raise. She had requested a 3 percent raise to bring her salary to $95,377. She is the only one of nine Ada County elected officials not to receive a merit pay raise this year.

“This is a merit raise awarded based on performance,” Tibbs told the Idaho Statesman. “There have been enough negative issues in the last year with the treasurer. … We felt that her performance was poor enough that she should not get a merit increase.”

Meanwhile, the board has hired an accounting firm to conduct a forensic audit — an examination of financial records for improprieties. The Idaho Attorney General’s Office is investigating too, Tibbs said, although a spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said he could neither confirm nor deny that.

McIntyre, 62, a Boise Republican elected without opposition in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, has not responded to the commissioners, all of whom are Republicans too. She declined a Statesman request for an interview Friday, saying that she was busy and that a spokesman would call.

The spokesman turned out to be a Treasurer’s Office employee who declined to be identified. He said: “For fear of jeopardizing ongoing issues and an investigation, the treasurer cannot respond to the Statesman’s questions.”

Here is what the commissioners cited:

1. ‘WADS OF BILLS IN THEIR POCKETS’

Earlier this year, the commissioners launched an internal audit after learning of problems with a county program that disposes of assets when someone dies without a will or heirs. The county treasurer handles 10 to 20 such cases yearly in a program known as public administration.

“We were notified that there were maybe some inappropriate activities or issues when the treasurer’s office was conducting a public administration,” Tibbs said.

Members of the county’s risk management and human resources departments visited a decedent’s house where the treasurer’s office was conducting a public sale of the assets.

“Treasurer’s office employees were walking around with wads of bills in their pockets (from the sale of items),” Tibbs said. “People coming in to look at items were left alone. The bottom line is there was no policy and procedure for employees to follow — an inventory, how to collect and control money. There were no controls.”

The staff also had to work in potentially unsanitary and unsafe conditions, he said. “There was fecal matter on the wall.”

The audit “found more serious irregularities, serious enough that the prosecuting attorney’s office was notified on some potentially criminal activity,” Tibbs said.

Typically, when an investigation into a county employee or department is needed, the Sheriff’s Office and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office hand it to another county or the attorney general to avoid conflicts of interest. The county prosecuting attorney sent this case to the attorney general, Tibbs said.

After the audit, the board hired an accounting firm to conduct a broader forensic audit of McIntyre’s office. That investigation began in August. Tibbs said he expects a final report within a month.

What the audit found has not been disclosed, but Tibbs said the commissioners have no reason to suspect McIntyre of a crime. “There is not anything I am aware of that implicates the treasurer in any criminal activity,” he said.

2. EMPLOYEE DEPARTURES AND COMPLAINTS

The commissioners say they are not the only ones having difficulty with the treasurer.

“We have heard quite a number of complaints from other county employees specifically dealing with the treasurer. She is just mean. … They try to stay away from the Treasurer’s Office,” Tibbs said. “It has been that way since I have been here,” said Tibbs, who was elected in 2013.

Treasurer’s Office employee turnover during McIntyre’s first four fiscal years of tenure has been “incredibly high,” the commissioners wrote, coming in at 25 percent, 17 percent, 7 percent and 48 percent for fiscal years 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Ada County Human Resources Senior Manager Bethany Calley said the county’s overall turnover rate in 2014 was 13 percent, and 2013’s was 12 percent. The turnover rate in the Treasurer’s Office “is definitely not the norm,” she said.

The commissioners’ letter said McIntyre had disclosed employees’ private personnel and medical information “despite multiple engagements by county HR advising on this topic.”

McIntyre also mishandled wage-and-hour, introductory-period and Family and Medical Leave Act matters involving employees, leading to legal exposure and multiple complaints about working conditions, the commissioners said.

Calley said she could not discuss specific complaints, but she confirmed, “We have managed employee-relation issues in that office.”

3. SHE WON’T COME TO COMMISSIONERS MEETINGS

Each week the commissioners hold an open business meeting. This is the opportunity for other elected officials to bring items to the commissioners’ attention and for the treasurer to present a financial report.

The treasurer is submitting to the commissioners monthly financial reports as required by state law. But she has not been attending the open business meetings to present or discuss them, Tibbs said.

“With the other elected officials it is rare they will miss a meeting,” he said. “With the treasurer it is rare she will attend one.”

4. OTHER ISSUES

The commissioners said McIntyre:

•  Has strained relationships across the county and with multiple stakeholders.



•  Incorrectly addressed property tax bills envelopes.



•  Hurt her office and others by changing processes without including appropriate county staff and without enough lead time.



McINTYRE’S COMPLAINTS AGAINST COMMISSIONERS

Last Nov. 8, four days after Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre was re-elected to his fifth term, McIntyre complained to the Attorney General’s Office that he had accepted a $1,000 campaign contribution from Republic Services, which has a trash-hauling contract with the county.

McIntyre told the investigator her complaint was “in ‘retaliation’ for what the Ada County Commissioners have done,” according to the investigator’s report.

McIntyre told the investigator that after she fired her second-in-command for insubordination — an employee who had been with the county for 18 years — the commissioners hired that employee to work in a new office the commission created to handle the county’s trash contract and billing — a function that was under the Treasurer’s Office. The commissioners also hired two other employees from the Treasurer’s Office to work in the office.

Tibbs said this account is incorrect. He pointed out a January 2014 letter from McIntyre to the board detailing issues she had with the solid waste contract and billing.

“Perhaps it is time for the Board of Ada County Commissioners to amend the ordinance and solid-waste contract to assign financial administration and billing of solid-waste collection customers to the Solid Waste Department whose staff reports directoly to the Board,” she wrote.

Tibbs said the board did just that.

In its Sept. 28 letter, the board asked that McIntyre’s “negative references” to the change in trash billing services “cease immediately.”

In July, the attorney general’s office finished its investigation of McIntyre’s complaint, finding that Republic Services had contributed to all three commissioners’ campaigns, but legally.

“(T)his office found no evidence that would indicate such influence or conspiracy exists in this matter,” Deputy Attorney General Paul R. Panther wrote to McIntyre.

McIntyre also filed a complaint this year with the county’s Human Resources Department saying the three commissioners had created a “hostile workplace” for her. Calley said that investigation has concluded and the complaint deemed unfounded.

WHAT’S NEXT: A RAISE IN 6 MONTHS?

Ada County has seven elected offices — commissioner, assessor, clerk, coroner, prosecuting attorney, sheriff and treasurer.

In general, the commission lacks authority to remove another elected official from office. Only voters can do that. The commission also lacks authority to take over powers statutorily granted to another elected office.

But there is a one-sentence state law that allows commissioners to suspend a treasurer “whenever an action based upon official misconduct is commenced.” Tibbs said county attorneys have looked into the law, enacted in the 1860s, and as far as they can tell it has never been used. The law does not define official misconduct.

“Is that criminal behavior? Social behavior? There is not any case law. Besides, we are trying to solve it in another way,” Tibbs said.

That other way is pay.

The commission does have control over other elected officials’ budgets. It also must approve all pay increases. Tibbs said denying McIntyre an increase and setting her budget are about the only tools the commission has to address her performance.

In its letter to McIntyre, first reported by local civic activist Dave Frazier in his Boise Guardian blog, the board said it would be willing to reconsider the merit pay increase in six months, “provided there is measurable improvement in the management of your office.”

“We hope to bring swift resolve to the ongoing challenges in your office related to staffing, morale, business integrity, and overall effectiveness,” the commissioners wrote.

Commissioners gave the other elected officials, including themselves, 2 percent merit raises effective Oct. 1, the start of the county fiscal year.

Tibbs said the board and Human Resources Department have offered to provide McIntyre any help she needs, but she has not accepted.

“We are not trying to be petty,” he said. “We want to see her be successful. We want to see her employees thrive.”

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