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It has been more than four years since former Jonesville Clerk-Treasurer Melissa Schultheis was sentenced to 15 years of probation and required to pay back $92,475 for stealing money from the town.
Throughout that time, the town council and Bartholomew County Democratic Party have failed to find a suitable replacement.
And so town council members continue to perform the clerk-treasurer duties, collecting revenues, paying bills and creating a budget.
And for the second consecutive two-year report, the Indiana State Board of Accounts (SBOA) has noted that the town is violating state law by failing to appoint a clerk-treasurer and by the town council fulfilling those duties.
Officials recognize that they are violating the law but feel they do not have much choice.
They said they are having a tough time finding anyone in Jonesville who is qualified and willing to take the job.
Jonesville, located in southern Bartholomew County, has about a dozen streets, about 80 homes and fewer than 200 residents.
State officials “know we are actively looking” for a clerk-treasurer, Town Council President Michele Rodriquez said.
Most of the town’s residents already have jobs or aren’t interested or able, she said.
Councilman Stacy Bennett said it’s a lot of work for little pay.
“We’re trying to do our best,” he said.
But he said the council members, too, are extra careful because they want to avoid falling victim to another thief, especially now that the town is making some progress.
Priscilla Scalf, the Bartholomew County Democratic Party chair, said the party initially received two names of possible candidates for the job. One declined the offer, and the other was rejected by the party, she said.
Scalf said the situation reflects the public’s apathy toward political office and the demographics in Jonesville.
Even in the city of Columbus, with more than 40,000 residents, Democrats have trouble finding candidates for some political offices.
In a town such as Jonesville, finding qualified and willing candidates is even tougher,
especially after the fiscal problems created by the previous office holder, Scalf said.
“If somebody is interested, we would love to talk to them,” Scalf said.
Rodriquez said she has been preparing the town’s budget, while fellow council member Audrey McFarlane has been doing the paperwork.
SBOA wrote in its most recent report that the town council lacks the authority to perform the clerk-treasurer’s duties.
SBOA also noted that the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) did not approve the town’s 2010 budget. DLGF is responsible for ensuring that local government budgeting is carried out in accordance with Indiana law. The agency has approved the town’s 2013 budget of $61,800.
Further, SBOA wrote that:
The town did not issue receipts for money received during the examination period.
The town council members received $800 in payments for 2010, but the salary ordinance presented to the SBOA lacked signatures of the town council members. The council minutes also did not reference the salary ordinance as having been approved.
According to the report, both Rodriquez and McFarlane concurred with the SBOA’s findings in a March 13 conference.
Bennett said the council members know their actions are not in compliance with the law, but the town’s business goes on, and bills have to be paid.
According to the SBOA report, the town’s finances are in good shape.
In 2010, the town had a surplus of nearly $4,300, followed by a surplus of more than $20,000 in 2011, leaving the town at year’s end with cash and investments of more than $60,000.
Last year, the town bought a tornado siren for about $24,000, Bennett said, and yet the town still has $66,000 in the bank.
By mid-July, Bennett said he hopes the town will have awarded bids to pave its western-most street, Market Street, and Mill Street between the railroad tracks to the east and Market Street to the west.
“We can only improve the town a little at a time,” he said.
The town’s finances have been in order ever since Schultheis’ exit, Bennett said.
Todd Austin, an accountant who conducts audits for the SBOA, said its role is simply to point out noncompliance with Indiana law.
SBOA has no power to sanction anyone, he said.
“All we can do is write comments. If corrective action is not taken, we write them again,” Austin said.
It was unclear what possible penalties, if any, the laws cited by the SBOA carry or who has jurisdiction to take any actions.
Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash said that he is not aware of having authority to enforce such laws.
Bennett also said the town would have more money if Schultheis’ made her monthly restitution payments of $300 on time.
It will take until 2034 for Schultheis to make good on the full amount.
Bennett said that Schultheis had been behind for several months earlier this year until he complained to probation officials. The town recently received a check of $1,800, though Bennett said that still leaves Schultheis in arrears.
Bartholomew County Court Services Director Brad Barnes said he could not comment on specific cases for confidentiality reasons. However, he said that generally when someone falls behind on court-ordered payments, probation officers determine on a case-by-case basis as to when to file a petition with the court to revoke probation.
Such a petition was filed last year by probation officials, Barnes said, but dismissed because Schultheis got caught up on her payments.
The state attorney general’s office filed a motion May 28 to obtain the authority to collect the money on behalf of Jonesville. That motion was dismissed by Judge Stephen Heimann on June 3, because it lacked a signature.
Bryan Corbin, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office, said the motion was a standard procedure that allows the state, if needed, to enforce the restitution in civil court.
“If she were to stop making monthly payments,” Corbin wrote, “then the Attorney General’s office as the state’s collection agent, could take additional enforcement actions, such as garnishing wages or attaching liens on property.”
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