Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

February 26, 2014

Special prosecutor sought in former county auditor case

By Boris Ladwig Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — GREENSBURG – Decatur County Prosecutor Jim Rosenberry has asked that a special prosecutor be appointed to determine whether criminal charges should be brought against former county Auditor Bridgett Weber.

After a special investigation, a state agency alleged that Weber had violated state law in 2011 when she increased her salary and the salary of five deputies in her office by a combined $37,500 without approval from the Decatur County Council.

The Indiana State Board of Accounts, which audits governmental units including cities, counties and schools, alleged that Weber, who now serves as Greensburg clerk-treasurer, took money from the Plat Book Maintenance Fund to pay herself an additional $17,000, and five deputies an additional $20,500 beyond what the Council had approved in its salary ordinance.

Weber, who has reached an agreement with the Attorney General’s Office to repay the $17,000, said she had received verbal approval from the County Council in 2010 to increase her salary with money from a fund that is not supported by property tax receipts.

County Council President Ernie Gauck said Weber misunderstood the Council’s instructions concerning the salaries in the auditor’s office.

An SBOA spokeswoman said last week that the agency merely determines what happened, and that the local prosecutor determines what, if any, charges to file.

Rosenberry on Friday filed in Decatur Circuit Court a request that a special prosecutor be appointed “to assure independent judgment … to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and in the best interests of justice ….”

Rosenberry said last week that he was considering the request because Weber is a former elected county official and currently serves in another elected capacity.

Gauck, who has served on the County Council for about 17 years, said the whole ordeal is the result of a misunderstanding.

Gauck said that Weber asked the Council in 2010 whether she could use money from the Plat Book Maintenance Fund for salaries in the auditor’s office. Council members said that if funds were available, they might agree, because the Plat Book fund is not paid through property taxes. The Council wanted Weber to pay part of her approved salary and/or part of the salaries of the other employees in the auditor’s office with money from that fund, Gauck said — but not to increase the salaries beyond what the Council already had approved.

Nonetheless, Gauck said, Weber, as an experienced auditor, should have known that she needed to seek Council approval before she released any money from that fund.

However, Gauck also acknowledged that it “could have been an honest mistake.”

Via email Tuesday, Weber concurred with Gauck’s assessment.

“I agree with Mr. Gauck that it was a misunderstanding and that there was no criminal intent,” Weber said.

Gauck said that given that Weber has agreed to pay back the money, no criminal prosecution was needed.

“Let’s go on,” Gauck said.

Weber, a Republican said last week that she believes the Council is punishing her because of intra-party politics. Six of the seven Council members are Republicans. Weber also said that her attorney told her that the incident resembles a “witch hunt.”

Gauck said that he found out about Weber’s salary padding from Decatur County Commissioner Rick Nobbe. Nobbe, a Democrat, told the Daily News that he was informed of Webber’s actions by someone else whom he did not want to identify.

“If I thought it would help in any way, I would,” Nobbe said.

Gauck also said that once the Council saw the discrepancy in the payroll, Council members had no choice but to contact state officials.

“Our hands were tied,” Gauck said.

The Decatur Councy Council in September amended the salary ordinance for 2011 retroactively to reflect higher salaries for all five employees in the auditor’s office — but not for Weber.

Gauck said the Council took that decision based on a recommendation by the SBOA and that it was a “matter of simplicity.”

He said that it probably would have cost the Council more in accounting and legal fees to figure out how to retrieve the additional salaries from the five employees and figure out taxes, retirement fund contributions, health care, and so on, than to simply amend the ordinance to reflect the higher salaries.

In Weber’s case, the Council was dealing with just one salary, so the math was much simpler, he said.

Politics or punishing Weber had nothing to do with the decision to not retroactively amend her salary, Gauck said.

Contact: Boris Ladwig 812-663-3111 x7401; boris.ladwig@greensburgdailynews.com