Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Damage control

Removing the treasurer

The Goochland Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on a motion made by Rudy Butler District 4 and seconded by Ned Creasy District 3 to approve a resolution requesting Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell to initiate an ouster proceeding against the County Treasurer Brenda Grubbs and appoint an interim treasurer. (Please go to the Supervisors’ page on the county website for the full text of this resolution.)

The vote was taken during a special called public meeting that began at 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, February 9. Concerned citizens from all over the county, three Richmond TV crews and reporters from print media paid close attention to the proceedings. The board room was nearly filled to its 250 seat capacity.

Following a call to order by board chair District 2 Supervisors William Quarles, County Administrator Rebecca T. Dickson gave a brief update in the ongoing investigation. Quarles permitted no citizen comment, but invited those present to attend the next board meeting on Tuesday, February 15 at 7 p.m. to make their thoughts heard.

Dickson commended the supervisors for their steadfast support and desire to “address this matter swiftly.” She characterized the responsiveness of the board as “remarkable.”

Dickson then explained that the office of Treasurer was established by the Virginia Constitution of 1870 and enjoys the independent status as an elected official. There seem to be no specific qualifications for holding the office of treasurer.

The office seems to have been given this independent status to ensure that local funds will be collected, invested and disbursed by an officer who is selected by and responsible to the citizens. The Treasurer is also charged with investing local funds and maintaining records of local finances. The treasurer is responsible for every form of revenue that comes to a locality including taxes; water and sewer fees; permit fees and court, sheriff and clerk fees.

Because the treasurer is independent, the Board of Supervisors or County administration cannot compel the treasurer to do anything.

Dickson cited specific concerns that the supervisors and county administration have had with Grubbs in the past two years including delayed monthly reconciliations; delays in issuing tax bills; delays in processing utility bills: investment of county funds; lack of internal controls and lack of delegation of duties.

Three letters from the Board of Supervisors to Grubbs during the past two year expressing the Board’s dissatisfaction and concern over her performance resulted in no progress on financial improvements. Attempts to relieve Grubbs of some financial duties were also unsuccessful. “She was never willing to let go of much of anything,” Dickson said of Grubbs.

During the past year, said Dickson, Board members sought ways to compel Grubbs to make needed changes and comply with county requests for financial improvements. They also struggled with ways deal with a non-responsive treasurer who seemed unqualified for the job and with no desire to change.

Dickson said that the external audits did not “catch” Grubbs’ alleged embezzlement because that is believed to have begun in August, 2010 and the latest CAFR covered the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2010.

The ongoing investigation, being conducted by Wachovia/Wells Fargo; the Virginia State Police; state auditors and the Virginia Attorney General’s office working closely with county staff, the county attorney and Goochland Sheriff’s Office will be in process for many month, said Dickson.

She asked that anyone having information pertinent to this investigation contact the Goochland Sheriff’s office at 556-5349.

As a Constitutional Officer, Grubbs is paid by the Commonwealth. Of her approximately $72,00 annual salary, the county pays about $9,000 and cannot withhold that paycheck as long as she remains in office. Dickson pointed out that while Grubbs has admitted to embezzlement, she has not been convicted. The County has encouraged Grubbs to resign with no success.

There is a public official bond in place for $400,000, an amount determined in the Code of Virginia by the County’s population. Goochland, said Dickson, will not explore collection under the bond until the investigation is complete. So far the amount of money allegedly embezzled is believed to be $135,000.

Following notification from Wachovia about unusual activity on county accounts, staff revoked the ability for anyone to retrieve cash via counter checks from county accounts. No mention was made of why this was ever permitted.

The Board of Supervisors met in closed session on Saturday, January 29, 2011 probably to authorize these actions.

Grubbs’ ability to electronically transfer funds was also revoked, which triggered the revelations of February 3 that resulted in Grubbs’ arrest and reported confession.

County Attorney Normal Sales explained that state law authorizes the governor to suspend a treasurer and appoint an interim treasurer until the ouster proceedings are concluded.

When a Constitutional Office is vacated, regardless of reason, the Code of Virginia states that the highest ranking deputy shall assume the duties of that office until qualified voters fill the vacancy.

Dickson said that the chief deputy in the treasurer’s office does not intend to fill the vacancy.

As Goochland is scheduled to elect its Treasurer this November, Sales said it could be likely that the interim treasurer will serve until then.

Sales said that a removal process initiated by a petition containing at least 486 signatures of registered voters, which is ten percent of the number of votes cast for Grubbs in the 2007 election is another way to remove her from office. Such a petition is being circulated and had 44 signatures at 11 a.m.

In the meantime, employees in the treasurer’s office are on administrative leave. Skeletal operations are being conducted out of the office of the Commissioner of the Revenue by county employees shifted from other departments.

All DMV computers and materials have been removed from the county administration building. Dickson said that a DMV mobile unit will be stationed in the lower parking lot on Sandy Hook Road near its intersection with Fairgrounds Road several days per week. This will offer all DMV services. Hours of operation will be announced soon.

Dickson said that the investigation has already put a great deal of stress on county employees who are shifting responsibilities to ensure that operations continue. She commended everyone for their willingness to pitch in.

So, the county has every expectation of being made whole for the money allegedly embezzled. The cost of the investigation remains unknown, but could prove to be a worthwhile investment in the long run.

Removal of Grubbs from office is being actively pursued on two fronts.

The big question is still why?

Language in the resolution transmittal letter from Dickson to Charles E. James, Esq. Chief Deputy Attorney General may provide some insight.

“...Numerous individuals, including myself, have made efforts to encourage Ms. Grubbs to resign her office of Treasurer. However, as of the date of this writing, she has yet to offer her resignation. It is rumored that Ms. Grubbs may be deeply in debt. If such rumors are true, then Ms. Grubb’s salary as Treasurer may be her only reliable source of income at this time. Moreover, it is not unusual for elected officials who are charged with a crime to resist a resignation upon being charged with hopes of using such factor as a bargaining chip in a potential plea agreement in a criminal case. In either event, it may be some time before Ms. Grubbs actually resigns her position, if at all.”

Dickson and the supervisors seem to have taken all of the right steps to resolve this sad and shocking situation. It will be interesting to see how the investigation unfolds and just how many facts will be revealed.


Anonymous said...

In our country's justice system, people are innocent until proven guilty. The Commonwealth has to prove guilt. BUT, I think this is an exception. Mrs. Grubbs will basically have to prove her innocence in this case. She is responsible for the county's money, and without an explanation it only shows guilt. I certainly do not feel sorry for her, being in this position. I hope she has a good explanation. Keep in mind folks, she still has a right to a fair trial, don't let the media coverage take that away.

Anonymous said...

The bigger question is how this issue will be used to potentially change local government. Some will surely call for a change from a Constitutionally elected position to one that is under the domain of the Administration. Does this make sense? Clearly the State did not protect us or do their job, but what would be the ramifications of changing the government? Do we want the BOS to be able to "compel" the Treasurer to do anything? What conflicts might that lead to?

The problem I see is that the Administration knew there were problems, there was little they could do about it - but they failed to inform the public who is in a position to do something about it by voting her out of office. Why are we just now learning about all this concern for her job performance? Was the State informed of these concerns? By what means is the public to know if they have elected a good or bad official?

Just asking...

Anonymous said...

Re anon at 1:55 pm

The State should have had at least two ways to know about the problems in the Treasurer's office.

The first way is the CAFR--all localities must file a finalized CAFR with the State no later than January 31st. If the problem was indicated in the CAFR (as it clearly was in 2010), the State would presumably know about it.

The second is that a state agency performs regular reviews (annual,iirc) of Treasurer operations in all localities. Are the reviews only cursory, or were findings identified but not corrected? That's something for an enterprising reporter or citizen to find out.

Anonymous said...

While we are airing out the laundry
How about the truth as to why the
Building Official - Dave Duffy was
allowed to resign instead of being fired and there seems to be more to the story than his wife's business-Java Jodi's and what they
did to the building when they left.
What else is under the covers?

SUSAN said...

Maybe you should consider what the Duffy family did for the Goochland community with Java Jodi's and how the entire situation tore their family apart. Jodi Duffy had a dream for that business and used a LARGE amount of her retirement from being a Richmond City police officeer for 25+ years to do it. Dave & Jodi put a lot of time & money into fixing up the building & were SCREWED by the owner who saw an opportunity to take advantage of a situation. The rumor mill of Goochland County is like a bunch 60 year old blue hairs getting their perms on Fri morning at the local salon chatting about people with way more interesting lives than their own. GET A LIFE.