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DOJ investigation continues

by: HOLLY M. GILL - In the absence of the county treasurer, Kathie Rohde, county finance director (left) and Kathy Marston, county clerk, have taken over the duties of the office, along with Debbie Palmer, not pictured. Treasurer Deena Goss is on administrative leave, pending the results of an investigation.With the Jefferson County treasurer remaining on paid administrative leave as an Oregon Department of Justice investigation continues, the County Commission has unanimously voted to change her compensation from salary to hourly.

Deena Goss, an elected official who has served as treasurer since 2003, placed herself on administrative leave on April 10, after the DOJ had opened its investigation into financial irregularities in the one-person Treasurer's Office.

On May 20, the County Commission asked the County Compensation Board to review Goss' salary package and make a recommendation for her compensation. The board was also asked to consider compensation for County Clerk Kathy Marston, who has been performing some of the duties of the Treasurer's Office.

Compensation Board members Roy Hyder, Tena Jackson, Paul Nemitz, Mike Weber and Clint Jacks met May 27 to review the information and unanimously recommended that the county treasurer's total compensation be an hourly stipend of $30.30 per hour, with a limit of 200 hours per year, and a maximum of 20 per month.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Deena GossThe stipend is based on Goss' total compensation package for the 2013-14 fiscal year of $66,368.26, minus Social Security and Workers' Compensation, and then divided by the number of hours in a year. Goss' actual annual salary for 2013-14 was $41,997.12.

The 20-hour maximum was based on an estimate of the current workload for the treasurer, and a study of the Yamhill County treasurer's workload after duties were shifted to that county's finance department.

The Compensation Board also recommended that the county pay the county clerk an additional $1,000 per month for performing duties of the Treasurer's Office.

In his report, County Administrator Jeff Rasmussen pointed out that Goss had not been in contact with any county officials to ensure that the duties of her office were being performed since placing herself on leave on April 10.

The DOJ investigation, which could last another six to eight weeks, was initiated after the county looked into a Feb. 27 complaint by a citizen who had written a $26 check for a dog license and found that it had been altered to $46 and processed by the county's bank for that amount.

County staff conducted an informal examination of daily reports from Jan. 1, 2013 to Feb. 28, 2014, looking for other discrepancies, and found numerous incidences of check overages and cash shortages.

Before turning the information over to the DOJ, the county found 13 incidences in which changes had been made to checks or entries on the treasurer's deposits for amounts ranging from $10-$30.

The cash amount taken from the 13 incidents amounted to $315.

“Our books balanced here at the county — our general ledger to cash," explained Kathie Rohde, county finance director. "It was the bank that took the hit, or citizens whose checks were altered."

When the county learned about the discrepancies, staff immediately made changes to ensure that it wouldn't happen again, according to Rohde.

"We review the bank deposit against the general ledger revenue and online banking to be sure they all match," she said, pointing out that the county is considering additional measures. "Our auditors will work closely with us to improve those controls."

Goss and her attorney, Todd Grover, of Bend, attended the meeting of the County Compensation Board on May 27, and did not object to the board's recommendation, which was accepted and adopted by the County Commission on May 28.

In a written statement on Friday, Grover noted that Goss placed herself on administrative leave and appointed a deputy treasurer (Rohde) to perform her duties in response to the DOJ investigation.

"This week, the County Commission moved to suspend payment of Ms. Goss’ salary, and to use those funds to compensate the county personnel currently performing the duties of the treasurer," he wrote. "Ms. Goss did not oppose that action. She believes that public employees should only be paid for the work that they perform. Ms. Goss looks forward to the speedy conclusion of the Justice Department’s investigation and the resumption of her duties as county treasurer."

The board also unanimously voted to provide $1,000 per month stipends to Rohde and Debbie Palmer, of the finance department, who have been handling the duties of the Treasurer's Office, along with Marston, since April. The stipends are retroactive to April 1.

Besides her regular duties, Rohde is in charge of interest allocation on investments and county investments with the county's firm. "Debbie is doing the tax turnover for all our taxing districts and issuing reports, and Kathy Marston is doing the daily banking and posting to the general ledger, which I review," said Rohde.

The current investigation is the second conducted on Goss by the DOJ. In 2010, Sheriff Jim Adkins asked the DOJ to investigate money totaling $7,993 which had gone missing from the inmate trust fund over a three-year period.

Focusing on Goss, who deposited the money for the sheriff's office, the investigator determined that there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Goss committed any crimes.

However, he noted, "It is highly suspicious that accounting problems arise exclusively when Goss handles cash. This suspicion is fueled by the fact that every time there is a discrepancy regarding cash and Goss, money is missing, as opposed to extra funds."

After the report became public in January 2011, the commission considered discipline for the missing money and Goss' violation of county investment policy, but after a public meeting in February, ultimately issued an apology to Goss.

She was re-elected in November 2012 to another four-year term.

Because Goss is an elected official, the county does not have the authority to remove her from office. Elected officials found guilty of wrongdoing must either resign or be recalled. No recall efforts have been initiated.

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