Officials push back on Treasurer’s explanations

By Sarah Pridgeon10-web-audit

In a letter to the County Commissioners, County Treasurer Mary Kuhl addresses actions within her office that were flagged in the annual audit as potential violations of the Wyoming Constitution. The crux of Kuhl’s defense is that, while she did allow certain customers to delay payments on items such as vehicle tax, she did so when mitigating circumstances forced her to make unusual decisions.

Several of Kuhl’s explanations imply that other county offices were complicit in her actions. However, County Clerk Linda Fritz and Sheriff Jeff Hodge both dispute these claims.

For example, a defense that appears more than once in Kuhl’s accounts is that she made sure to retain the items a customer was paying for until they had been paid in full. For instance, when responding to the allegation that she issued a registration to herself that was not paid for approximately one month, Kuhl states that the check was kept in the safe and accounted for every day until it was deposited.

“More importantly, the registration for this vehicle remained in the Treasurer’s Office and was not released to me or applied to my vehicle until the funds were deposited,” she says.

Meanwhile, in responding to the accusation that the questionable transactions ranged from small amounts up to $19,000 and from one day to several months, Kuhl makes the same claim.

“We do not release or mail these registrations or transactions until we have the check or payment for the transactions in the office,” she says.

“No titles, registrations, license plates or tabs were released until we had a check to pay for the transactions.”

Kuhl states that a customer does not receive a purchased item until the transaction is marked as complete.

“I would consider these transactions as a pending transaction still present in the Treasurer’s Office with the possibility of voiding if we do not receive the funds for them,” she says.

Fritz, who has submitted a response to the auditor that aims to clarify some of the points raised in Kuhl’s letter, disagrees.

“The Treasurer has no authority to void a vehicle certificate of title. That is the statutory duty of the County Clerk,” she says.

“We received the funds, in cash, from the Treasurer’s Office to pay for those titles, so I would not void it and it was not considered pending in our office.”

Fritz also addresses Kuhl’s claim that no titles, registrations, license plates or tabs were released until a check had been received.

“As the County Clerk’s Office is the titling agency for Crook County, I would state that the titles were released to [the] customer,” she explains.

“When the Clerk’s Office receives a sales tax receipt from the Treasurer’s Office, the title is then released to the customer or the lienholder.”

Fritz adds that, on rare occasions, the Clerk’s Office does give the title to the Treasurer’s Office to mail with the plates. However, the customer specifically in question in that portion of the audit presents the sales tax receipt or tax exempt form and is given the title.

Responding to an accusation that, in one extreme case, sales tax and auto registration were issued on March 27 but were still unpaid on July 27 in 2016, Kuhl argues that her actions were intended to resolve a difficult situation. By the time the customer contacted the office to warn that his check would not clear, Kuhl says, it was too late to pause the transaction.

“I did contact the County Clerk’s Office to see if the title had been released to the bank and it had been released,” she says. The decisions that followed, according to Kuhl’s letter, were based on this fact.

However, Fritz denies that her office was ever contacted over the issue.

“After visiting with my staff, no one recalls her asking for the title for the customer in question. The documentation on our title affidavit shows that the title was given back to the customer on the same date that we received a sales tax receipt,” Fritz says.

Within her letter, Kuhl makes the claim that she made the decision to implement a payment plan with the customer who warned her that his check was going to bounce. She admits that a review of the Department of Revenue’s payment plan guidelines suggests that she did not follow the correct procedure but states that a lack of prior experience and no internal policies was the cause.

Kuhl implies that she chose to implement a payment plan because the Sheriff’s Office is unwilling to work with the Treasurer’s Office to collect on non-sufficient funds checks. She states that she has handed over only one such check in the past.

“However, when the Sheriff was in the Treasurer’s Office and we gave him the paperwork we had on that check he made it very clear that we should not make a habit out of turning checks over to him for collection or seizure,” says Kuhl’s letter.

Kuhl also claims that the check she did turn over to the Sheriff’s Office is still outstanding on her daily balance and has not been resolved.

“Based on this prior experience, I believed that it was best for me to resolve this matter with the taxpayer directly,” she says.

The sheriff, however, disputes this account. Not only did the conversation in question never take place, he says, no checks have ever been turned over to his office; he also notes that doing so would also not be the correct procedure for Kuhl to follow.

“I don’t know which sheriff she is talking about, because I don’t recollect that conversation. Nor do we have any record of her turning over any checks to us,” says Hodge.

“But then, we shouldn’t. She is in the city limits – they don’t turn checks over to the Sheriff’s Office, they turn them over to the Sundance Police Department, because it’s not in our jurisdiction.”

Hodge acknowledges that the Sheriff’s Office does not encourage county offices to turn over bad checks until their internal procedures have been followed. He has not received a request from the auditors to respond to Kuhl’s allegation, he says.

The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation was asked to perform an investigation into the audit findings several months ago. That investigation is ongoing.

 

Editor’s Note: Mrs. Kuhl’s letter to the County Commissioners is dated December 14. The Times was not provided with a copy until last week, after repeated requests had been made to the County Treasurer’s Office in accordance with the Wyoming open records statute.