Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Prosecutor won’t charge Sun Valley employees

Lack of evidence cited in allegations against Hammer, Carnes

Express Staff Writer

Jim Thomas

      After reviewing a forensic audit and an investigation report from the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas has decided not to file criminal charges against any city of Sun Valley employees regarding allegations of misappropriation of city property, misuse of city credit cards and time-card fraud.

     Thomas made his decision known to Mayor Dewayne Briscoe and the City Council in a letter dated Nov. 21.

     The letter addresses “suspected criminal activity” by former City Administrator Sharon Hammer, former Fire Chief Jeff Carnes and Fire Department employee Nick Carnes, which was reported by investigator Patricia Ball, founder of Boise-based workplace legal services company Management Northwest.

“[I]t is impossible to reconstruct an accurate timeline or find supporting evidence that the State can rely on to prove criminal malfeasance.”
Jim Thomas
Blaine County prosecuting attorney

    Thomas cited insufficient evidence due to sloppy record keeping and permission by city officials to engage in questionable activities as barriers to prosecution.

     The letter addressed the following allegations:

  • That Hammer used a city-owned Ford Expedition and a city credit card to pay for gas for personal trips.

     Citing a forensic audit carried out by Seattle-based accounting firm HSNO, Thomas stated that insufficient documentation exists to determine how the vehicle was used and whether gas was used in the city vehicle or Hammer’s personal vehicle.

     “More compelling, however,” Thomas wrote, “is evidence establishing that the City permitted these activities. Despite the fact that use of a City vehicle for personal use is strictly prohibited by City of Sun Valley Policy 3.13, [former] Mayor Wayne Willich expressly authorized Hammer to use the City vehicle for business and personal use, citing her standing as an on-call [Emergency Medical Technician] in support of her need to use the vehicle on a full-time basis. Willich also authorized Hammer to use the city credit card for fuel purchases associated with Hammer’s use of the City vehicle.”

  • That Hammer failed to account for personal leave.

     Thomas stated that Willich allowed Hammer to exercise a “flex time” schedule that did not require her to account for her hours on the job.

  • That gas bought on Jeff Carnes’ city-issued credit card was more than that required for Fire Department vehicles.

     Thomas pointed to a lack of documentation of credit card use and noted plausible explanations for what appears to be excessive use of the card, including the possibility that Carnes’ card was used to fill several vehicles at once.

  • Purchases on Carnes’ city-issued credit card for personal items, including clothing, electronic equipment, food, ski tickets and snowmobile repairs. Again, Thomas pointed to a lack of documentation and approval of the purchases by Hammer, Willich and the City Council.
  • That Nick Carnes was paid for more hours than he actually worked.

     “The sheer number of hours worked certainly raises suspicions,” Thomas wrote, “and although there are numerous hours of undocumented or improperly documented payments to Nick Carnes, it is impossible to reconstruct an accurate timeline or find supporting evidence that the State can rely on to prove criminal malfeasance.”

     Hammer was terminated from her position as city administrator without stated cause last January. Briscoe and the City Council later commissioned the forensic audit, the results of which were provided to Thomas for review and investigation. Thomas released his findings to the Idaho Mountain Express Tuesday after the Express filed a public records request.

     Jeff Carnes, Tina Carnes and Nick Carnes all resigned from their positions with the city in September. They had all been on paid administrative leave since December 2011.

     Thomas’ letter concludes with the observation that although no criminal charges will be filed, the investigations revealed “serious failures at multiple levels of management and supervision within the City of Sun Valley.”

     “These failures in oversight contributed to a culture of entitlement where certain employees took advantage of the City’s mismanagement, and led to a breach of the public trust and damage to the City’s professional reputation.”

Greg Moore:

     For more on this story, see the Friday, Nov. 30, print edition of the Idaho Mountain Express.


Sun Valley hires new administrator

Wisconsin woman will earn $125,000 per year

    Nearly a year after former Sun Valley City Administrator Sharon Hammer’s contract with the city was terminated with no stated cause, the mayor and City Council have selected someone to replace her.

     After an executive session during a special City Council meeting Monday, the council unanimously authorized Mayor DeWayne Briscoe to enter into an employment agreement with “a” city administrator.

     Briscoe clarified who that administrator will be just before press deadline Tuesday. Her name is Susan E. Robertson, the village manager of Fox Point, Wis., a position she has held since 1995.

     “Susan told me she loves the Sun Valley area and that this is the only job for which she would consider leaving her current position,” Briscoe said. “This is her dream job.”

     Briscoe said the council is “pleased” with Robertson’s qualifications, which include professional experience in positions such as city manager of Silverton, Ore., assistant city manager of Canandalgua, N.Y., assistant city manager of Laramie, Wyo., and director of housing and community development of Ripon, Wis.

     “If you read her qualifications, she’s probably the most qualified city administrator the city’s had in a number of years,” Briscoe said.

     Briscoe said Robertson has managed fire, police and public works departments in the various cities in which she has been employed. Robertson has a master’s of public administration from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Florida.

     “She’s fully aware of the problems the city has had over the past year and she’s willing to step in,” Briscoe said. “She agrees with the new tone and culture that we have since established in the administration of the city.”

     Briscoe said this “new tone” is one of compliance with city regulations.

     According to Briscoe, Robertson’s salary will be $125,000 per year, plus a one-time payment of up to $7,500 for moving costs. He said Robertson will not receive any additional compensation such as housing or automobile allowances or retirement benefits.

     “She will be entitled to the same benefit package as all the other city employees.”

     Briscoe said he signed the employment agreement with Robertson Tuesday afternoon.

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