Ex-trustee asked to repay more than $27,000

A special prosecutor has been requested to determine whether to file criminal charges against a former Rockcreek Township trustee in Bartholomew County after an Indiana State Board of Accounts audit determined there was overpayment of funds to the individual and his wife.

David E. Buzzard, 16750 E. County Road 200S, and his wife, Jacqueline, both 49, were the focus of an Indiana State Board of Accounts audit that covers the time when the husband served as trustee and his wife as township clerk.

The couple were paid more than twice as much over a four-and-a-half year period than they were entitled, according to the audit filed Sept. 12.

Copies of the audit were forwarded to the offices of Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash and Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill.

Since both the county prosecutor and Buzzard are Republicans, Nash said he submitted a request Sept. 13 that a special prosecutor be named to avoid any possible appearance of impropriety. As of Friday, such an appointment had not been made, Nash said.

From the beginning of 2012 through late summer of 2016, the couple should have been paid no more than a combined $26,000, the audit states.

However, the Buzzards actually received $54,141 during that period, according to an affidavit signed last April by field examiner and auditor Eugene West of Hancock County.

Records show David Buzzard paid back $12,825 to the township shortly before submitting his resignation Sept. 12, 2016 to Bartholomew County GOP chairwoman Barb Hackman.

However, the State Board of Accounts is requesting the return of another $27,541 in monies overpaid to him and his wife, according to the audit.

Although Jacqueline Buzzard did not formally resign, she did not continue her duties as township clerk after her husband stepped down, and the position remains open, current Rockcreek Township trustee Marcus Speer said.

Besides the monetary overpayments, the audit found other discrepancies during this period in Rockcreek Township finances, including:

Unpaid employer payroll taxes of $335.

A $1,000 counter check made payable to cash written by David Buzzard on May 3, 2016 that was never shown to be for a valid township expense.

$1,511 of other disbursements by the trustee’s office without supporting documentation.

$2,195 for unallowable data and telephone expenses claimed by the trustee’s office.

The State Board of Accounts also ordered Buzzard to make an additional payment of $4,445 to cover the cost of its special investigation.

In Indiana, the primary responsibility of a township trustee is to provide poor relief to residents who need it most. Other trustee duties including funding volunteer fire departments and maintaining cemeteries. Activities of the township trustee are funded with taxpayer dollars.

West’s affidavit states there was no required oversight of financial activity on an ongoing basis by another individual, which allowed the overpayments to occur and not be identified in a timely manner.

The Rockcreek Township Advisory Board thought it had a good handle on checks and balances, board chairman Garry Barker said.

“But then we found out there were problems about a year ago, when some deadlines (for payments) were not being made,” Barker said. “It brought up enough questions that we decided to bring the State Board of Accounts in.”

The board’s intention was to have the outside agency conduct an audit of township finances, Barker said.

Four days after Buzzard resigned his position last fall, a caucus of Rockcreek Township GOP committeeman resulted in the appointment of Speer, who was then a member of the township advisory board.

Throughout the past year, Speer has taken initial steps to rectify financial problems that resulted from the missing funds, Barker said.

For example, township advisory board members as well as Speer have agreed to work without being paid in order to better stabilize the township’s monetary situation, Speer said.

Advisory board members are supposed to receive $480 a year and the trustee’s annual salary is $4,800, Speer said. By working for free, Speer said he believes about $7,640 has already been saved.

But the State Board of Accounts lists total charges at $43,564 — which means the state is still looking to collect $30,739 after last year’s reimbursements.

“We are still not there,” said Speer in regard to restoring the township’s current financial health.

Speer has implemented additional checks and balances to ensure similar incidents won’t occur again, Barker said.

While Speer assumes future repayments from Buzzard would go back into the township’s bank accounts, he said he has not been told specifically that will happen by the State Board of Accounts.

According to state law, former trustees are responsible for all aspects of town financial activity that occurred while they were on the job.

But since no criminal charges have been filed and West did not specifically assign responsibility for non-salary matters, both Speer and Barker said it has yet to be determined how much of the discrepancies may have to be paid by Rockcreek Township rather than the Buzzards.

From 2012 to 2014, David Buzzard’s annual salary was reported in a certified statement to the state of Indiana at $4,841, while his wife’s salary was listed at $721, according to an earlier compliance report issued by the State Board of Accounts.

But that same compliance report released March 30 by examiner Paul D. Joyce states the trustee was overpaid $1,249 in 2012 _ and $1,799 in 2013.

While the trustee was underpaid by about $900 in 2014, Buzzard’s salary soared to $16,464 in 2015, West stated in his audit. Buzzard had only reported receiving $4,438 that year in his certified report.

Also in 2015, Jacqueline Buzzard’s salary, reported at $661, was determined to actually be $2,150, the March compliance report stated.

The salary for trustee in 2015 was set at $4,800, while the clerk’s salary was set at about $900, Speer said.

While most township trustees pay out salaries on a monthly or quarterly basis, Speer said there didn’t seem to be a set pattern regarding how the Buzzards were paying themselves.

Before stepping down in 2016, David Buzzard was overpaid $6,200 during that year, according to the audit released last month.

For Buzzard’s wife, Jacqueline, the audit indicated a similar pattern — although with smaller amounts.

Overpayments of $280 were made in 2012, followed by $150 annually in both 2013 and 2014, according to the audit.

West’s report indicates she received $1,250 more than she was entitled to get in 2015. The overpayment in 2016 totaled $900.

Efforts to reach the Buzzards for comment both directly and through third parties have been unsuccessful since the State Board of Accounts audit was filed Sept. 12.

An equipment operator and farm foreman, David Buzzard was first elected Rockcreek Township trustee in November 2010 by defeating Democratic incumbent Larry Boyle. Four years later, the Republican won his second term by winning over Democratic challenger Kathy Thompson.

This is the fifth time in the past three years that township officials in Bartholomew County have been investigated for financial improprieties.

Other elected officials who have been investigated include former Clay Township Trustee Rebecca A. “Becky” Smith, 2017; former Wayne Township Trustee Clint Madden, 2016; and former Clay Township Trustee Christa K. Acton and Deputy Trustee, Laurie L. Baker, 2014.

Other cases

The audit involving financial activities by former Rockcreek Township Trustee David Buzzard and his wife, Jacqueline, was preceded by a number of similar cases involving alleged wrongdoing by elected officials controlling public funds in rural Bartholomew County.

2017

July – Former Clay Township Trustee Rebecca A. “Becky” Smith accused of receiving $3,459 in various forms she was not entitled to. Case pending.

February – Former Jonesville clerk-treasurer Melissa Schultheis ordered to spend 30 days in jail. Schultheis failed to make restitution payments for a year while still owing $76,200 for funds taken between September 1998 and January 2008.

2016

October – Wayne Township Trustee Clint Madden resigns shortly before Bartholomew County GOP chairwoman Barb Hackman confirms an audit of the township’s financial records was underway. No audit results have been released.

2014

October – Former Clay Township Trustee Christa K. Acton is ordered to spend a year in jail and pay $19,610 in restitution.  The case involves missing funds over a three-year period that turned up in a 2011 audit.

September – Acton’s deputy trustee, Laurie L. Baker, ordered to serve six months in jail and ordered to make $6,000 restitution.

What township trustees do

In Indiana, a township trustee:

  • Is designated as the administrator of emergency assistance within the township, responsible for the oversight and care of all poor individuals in the township as long as they remain in the trustee’s charge.
  • May purchase, with approval of the township board,  fire-fighting and emergency-services equipment for the township and to house, maintain and operate that equipment; or contract with a municipality, contiguous township or volunteer fire department for fire-fighting services.
  • Is responsible for maintaining abandoned cemeteries, or administering cemeteries established by or conveyed to the township.
  • May levy a tax and use appropriated township funds to pay for recreational programs, facilities or services.

Source: United Township Association of Indiana, Indiana Code

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.