Questions about finances pit elected officials against each other

NELIGH – Finger-pointing. Accusations. Mistrust.

The new Antelope County Commission finds itself navigating issues that have created division between themselves and other county elected officials.

The Commissioners tabled discussion Tuesday on the county’s finances. That followed an over three-hour meeting, that featured comments from department heads and the public about what they perceive as a lack of trust regarding how their departments were run.

“Time and again for the past three weeks I received an e-mail after – only after – you contact someone else be it NACO [The National Association of Counties], NIRMA [the Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association], your private attorney or any combination of people,” said County Clerk Lisa Payne in a prepared statement at the beginning of the meeting. “These actions show distrust and a lack of willingness to work with the officials.”

At one point…Antelope County Clerk Lisa Payne revealed that County Commissioner Allan Bentley of Neligh sent e-mails to department heads…asking for their card number and security codes for each county issued Credit Card.

“[Bentley] then requested expiration dates and security codes on those cards,” Payne said. “They’re not mine to give, and I told him that.”

Bentley responded, “I need to answer the taxpayers’ questions when they say ‘How much is this? Where are we spending this?’ I need to have access to all that information.”

It all stems from a meeting last month, where county department heads were held over the fire after a state audit report revealed deficiencies in many departments, like failing to foreclose on delinquent properties or not collecting funds. But officials in the county say most of those deficiencies have since been fixed.

“Everything I use that [credit] card for has a receipt,” said County Sheriff Robert Moore. “Its attached to the claim and it’s right there. There’s no other way to sneak something past this board. You have the claims. You have the receipts. It’s presented to the board. You can look through and explain to the taxpayers why Bob purchased this and why Bob purchased that. And if you have a problem, you can call Bob to the meeting.”

But Commissioners say they aren’t convinced…and are trying to find ways to increase their oversight of the various county agencies.

“There are statutes that were violated per the state auditor’s report,” said District 1 Commissioner Dean Smith. “I believe that I’ve done my due diligence in trying to investigate that.”

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers to get to the bottom of it,” Commission Chairman Tom Borer added.

Antelope County’s Attorney Joe Abler, whose office has been targeted by the Commissioners, says their options for additional oversight may be limited.

“I know there’s some caselaw out there as far as you guys approving budgets and everything else,” Abler said. “But as far as requesting and ordering exactly how it’s spent, there might be some gray area there.”

Abler says he will meet with the finance committee in the coming week and bring recommendations back to the Commission next Tuesday. But it may take a lot longer than a week for some of the division between County Commissioners and their various department heads to smooth over.

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