“Where did this money go…?” Donnie Bush, Magistrate
This article is the proverbial “other side of the story” from what was published in Vol. 132, No. 40 entitled “Fiscal Court Fireworks.” In that article, it was alleged the Fiscal Court had flatly refused to approve funds needed to conduct the upcoming November elections.
Three magistrates, Donnie Bush, Ellis Tincher, and Ray Moore presented at our office with the other side of the story. They urge readers not to rush to judgment. This, like most all things, has another side to it.
Here is what the magistrates told the Times-Voice this week. As everyone knows, there have been issues between the fiscal court and our court clerk concerning these elections upcoming in November.
Mr. Bush told the paper, “At our regularly scheduled meeting, on December 17, 2019, the clerk told us she would have between 15-20,000 dollars at year’s end in excess fees.” The clerk and the sheriff run their respective offices from off of the revenue each office generates. “Whatever is left over at year’s end is supposed to come into the County’s general fund,” Bush explained, “same as the Sheriff.
Bush told the newspaper the sheriff and clerk operate on calendar years. Every other vestige of county government operates on a fiscal year which runs from July 1st to June 30th of the year succeeding.
The three magistrates we interviewed professed confusion when, in February of 2020, not only was there no 15-20,000 dollars in excess fees but the clerk’s settlement reflected her office had run $1,600.00 “in the red.” Bush asked us, “Where did this money go? What happened to this $20,000.00?"
Notwithstanding there being significantly less funds on hand than expected, Fiscal Court still voted to pay the clerk the $1,600.00 it needed to balance out the clerk’s books for the 2019-calendar year. In March, one month later, Fiscal Court voted to permit both fee offices (sheriff and clerk) to submit quarterly financial reports.
The reports were due by the April, 2020 meeting. “The sheriff submitted his first-quarter report,” Tincher told the Times-Voice. “However, the clerk didn’t.”
The clerk was asked in numerous meetings for her quarterly report, according to the magistrates. Ms. Curtis even had discussion with the county attorney where he explained her legal obligation to submit the first-quarter report to the Fiscal Court. It was explained further the Fiscal Court has the authority to investigate any and all affairs pertaining to county government.
The clerk submitted what she held out as a quarterly report to the August scheduled meeting, according to these three gentlemen. “What was submitted was inadequate,” Bush told the Times-Voice.
“When we declined to approve the funds requested of us by the clerk concerning the election costs from the June primary, there were two reasons we didn’t approve what was requested,” Magistrate Moore said. “One, we wanted documentation supporting why the clerk billed Fiscal Court $6,250.00 for the primary. Two, according to KRS 117.343, it was an expense the clerk didn’t have to recover from us. She could get it from the Kentucky Board of Elections.
The statute the Magistrates cited reads, in pertinent part, ”…the county clerk may request reimbursement from the State Board of Elections, for the cost of employing office personnel necessary for the conduction of elections…” This statute, according to all three Magistrates, meant there was a source, other than Fiscal Court, which could be on the hook for the clerk’s bill.
The Fiscal Court approved the payment of $5,750.00 for the cost of employing office personnel to conduct the primary. This left a balance of $550.00 still in dispute.
The day of the primaries, June 23, 2020, the clerk asked for $3,000.00 from the Fiscal Court. The court voted to give the clerk $2,400.00. “This wasn’t an arbitrary amount,” Ellis Tincher told the Times-Voice. “We figured 4-workers for each of the 3-precincts, at $200.00 per worker.”
“Look,” Bush told us, “We’re not trying to be unreasonable here. It is our understanding the clerk got $7,500.00 for the primaries and another $15,000.00 for the November elections with both amounts coming from the State Board of Elections.” Bush went on to say, “All we’re asking for is accountability. We need to know how this money is being spent.”
“This isn’t our money,” Bush continued. “This is the tax payers' money. We’re trying to be good stewards of this money as we believe we were elected to be.”
The Times-Voice asked the three magistrates why it didn’t just pay the clerk the $550.00? In an earlier interview with the executive director of the Kentucky Board of Elections, Mr. Jared Dearing told the paper KRS 117.345 provides, in pertinent part, that the costs of all elections held in any county shall be allowed by the fiscal court and paid by the county treasurer except as provided by law. Emphasis added.
Magistrate Bush was quick to point out the wording, “…except as provided by law.” According to Magistrate Bush, it is the court’s opinion KRS 117.343, permitting the costs to be reimbursed by the State Board of Elections upon application being made, shifts the onus for payment to the Board from off of Fiscal Court.
As for the voting machines, all three magistrates said they were working on a way to get new machines without having to expense the county coffers for them. “If she had been patient,” Ellis Tincher told us, “she would have ended up getting what she needed and wanted and it wouldn’t have cost the county tax-payers anything. Like was said before, we were trying to be good stewards of the county’s money.
We asked the Magistrates about the claim the failure to provide voting machines would close precincts. Magistrate Tincher told the Times-Voice, “According to the Governor’s previous briefings (JTV) took this to mean briefings in advance of the present dispute between the clerk’s office and fiscal court), all precincts weren’t opening in Kentucky anyway.”