Stafford: Patton was overpaid before I knew about it

Published 7:43 pm Friday, May 18, 2012

Please see our Publisher Jeff Findley’s column related to this article: County chairman needs to take responsibility for decision

Dr. Charles T. Stafford, the chairman of the Decatur County Board of Commissioners, said Former County Administrator Tom Patton was likely overpaid by $1,600 in severance pay, but Stafford said he did not know about it until the payment had already been deposited and processed.

Patton submitted his resignation Tuesday, Feb. 28, which commissioners accepted in an executive session during a regular county board meeting. Also during that executive session, commissioners agreed to pay Patton $29,408 in severance pay. This payment was based on total itemized sick time, accrued personal time off and days worked.

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According to an April 17 memo written by County Attorney Brown Moseley, Human Resources Director Marjorie Mayfield requested that Accounting Technician Michelle West process the check for that amount. Accounting Clerk Krystal Carter then reportedly discovered the amount was in error and featured four days of pay that Patton was not entitled to, amounting to $1,600.

Stafford said Wednesday that the error was not known before the payment had been processed.

“To my knowledge, that error … is alleged to have been detected after the check was disbursed or transmitted,” he said. “If there was truly an error, we would have had to go back through a process, again, of rescinding a negotiated amount, and issuing another disbursement.”

Stafford said he has spoken with Patton about returning the overpayment, but the former county administrator declined to do so.

“I thought it was worth the effort to call him and tell him that this issue of overpayment could be looked at in terms of recoupment,” Stafford said. “I told him, ‘I am asking you and telling you that there might be a recoupment request.’ He asked how much and I said that right now the number is about $1,600. He declined.”

Stafford said that other commissioners first learned about the “alleged overpayment” at a March 13 executive session, and the board came to a consensus that it would have taken too much time and effort to recover the $1,600. That statement was backed up by Moseley’s memo, which stated: “It was agreed that any action to recover the $1,600 would be more trouble and expense than it would be worth.”

Stafford added that he still was not 100-percent sure that an overpayment had occurred.

“I am saying that I don’t think we have the final number here,” he said. “Going back through this, step by step, as I have said, we’re dealing with a polarized situation. The circumstances, that the board found itself in, is what I would call exigent circumstances. The numbers that were used were the best information that we had. But, when you’re in a tense, high-pressured situation, that’s a set-up for a miscalculation or an error.

“The number seems to be believable, but I want to be sure about this number, myself. Because if there was an error under those circumstances, then I want to make sure, because there is another side to this equation. And that is honoring our word to the former employee.”

According to a written statement by County Clerk Beverly King, which was provided to The Post-Searchlight by County Attorney Brown Moseley, Stafford and at least two county administrative employees — Finance Director Carl Rowland and Mayfield — knew about the overpayment before it had been processed.

“[Accounting Technician] Michelle [West] told me that Tom was overpaid $2,000.00 and Carl, Marjorie and Dr. Stafford knew about it and instead of fixing it before the check was cut, they let it go and expected her to cover it up,” King wrote. “I told her I didn’t know that Carl and Dr. Stafford knew about it and she said they both knew about it. I told Michelle that I don’t cover up for anybody or lie for anybody and I advised her to do the same thing.”

Moseley gave a similar account in his memo.

“[On Wednesday, Feb. 29], Marjorie met with Carl and indicated that they had ‘messed up’ in figuring Tom Patton’s final check,” Moseley wrote. “Carl told Marjorie that he would get with Dr. Stafford later about the check amount. Some time later, Carl made Dr. Stafford aware of the mistake in calculating Patton’s final check. This meeting took place before the check was issued.”

West also created a written statement, provided by Moseley, suggesting that Stafford was aware of the mistake before the payment was processed.

“Carl said that we needed to fix [the mistake] and we could not just do nothing,” West wrote. “He said to hold off on processing the check until he could get with Marjorie and Dr. Stafford. Carl later came to me and said to process the check, because the commissioners had agreed upon the amount of $29,408.00. [Accounting Clerk] Krystal [Carter] then processed the check.”

When told about the statements from West and King, Stafford again stated he did not know about the error until the disbursement had already been made.

“I think that those statements are not accurate at all,” he said. “I am working as hard as I can [to solve this problem]. It is consuming every dang thing that I’m doing, to come to an answer on this thing, to my satisfaction. Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only one on this board who is still trying to do right by the county.”

Please see our Publisher Jeff Findley’s column related to this article: County chairman needs to take responsibility for decision