Thursday, June 26, 2003

West Chester regrouping


Former finance director accused of carelessness

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - Trustees are stepping up their search for a new finance director to replace one who left behind unfinished work and other bookkeeping problems - after a stint tainted by reprimands for surfing porn sites in the office.

"Now we are looking for a nice, dull, reputable financial manager to pick up where Scott left off," township Trustee Catherine Stoker said of Scott Campbell, who left last month to take a higher-paying job as treasurer of the city of Trenton, also in Butler County.

In West Chester, Campbell lost Internet access on his township computer last year after several co-workers complained he was repeatedly viewing pornography sites, according to township officials and records obtained by the Enquirer. This year, they say, he ran some township accounts into negative balance, was responsible for at least one bank overdraft and left the township audit preparation unfinished.

Township officials stress they have plenty of money, all funds are accounted for, and their $33 million 2003 budget is intact. They also say they don't expect any significant consequences for the unfinished audit.

"In the last few weeks of Scott Campbell's employment with us, it turns out he has been shirking his responsibilities ," West Chester Administrator Dave Gully wrote trustees in a May 22 e-mail obtained through a public records request.

West Chester officials say Campbell isn't suspected of financial wrongdoing, just careless bookkeeping.

He left before finishing all of the work for the township's annual 2002 state audit and comprehensive annual financial report, so West Chester recently had to file for an extension.

While Campbell denied most of the financial allegations in an interview last week, he did acknowledge the 2002 pornography incidents and said he regrets them.

"It is something that was very unfortunate that I am not happy personally that it occurred," Campbell, 33, said. "I am sorry for it. I dealt with it as best I could and tried to move on. It is not something I am proud of personally or professionally."

Gully said he tried to help Campbell.

"We didn't feel it affected his ability to do the township's finances," said Trustee David Tacosik.

West Chester officials did concede that the township's checking account at Fifth Third Bank has been overdrawn once this year, in January. That occurred, Assistant Administrator Judith Carter said, because Campbell didn't transfer funds from the township's investment account at Peoples Community Bank to it in time to cover checks.

But they insist no checks bounced and the township wasn't charged an overdraft fee. "We're solvent. We have more money than we had last year and our accounting system has integrity, otherwise we wouldn't have caught any of this," Gully said last week. "When we get to the point where we don't know about this stuff, then (the public) ought to worry."

Audit extension sought

In the meantime, the township has filed for an audit extension. A contractor has been hired to finish the annual state audit and the township's comprehensive annual financial report.

"This is not a mess. It's an inconvenience," Stoker said.

"Currently, the township has $2.1 million in its checking account and $7.9 million in its investment account, township records show.

Stoker and Trustee Jose Alvarez said they are confident the township's audit and comprehensive financial report will be completed by the extended deadline. The incident, they stressed, is just a one-time case of carelessness that should not reflect on West Chester as a whole.

"We make sure our bills are paid," Alvarez said. "Those issues have been corrected and we're moving forward. The fact that it is known about and addressed shows the system works and we have safeguards."

'Accounting is inaccurate'

Campbell resigned from West Chester in an April 21 letter to Gully, effective May 21. He earned $56,000 annually at West Chester. Now, he makes $62,000 a year in Trenton.

Campbell was supposed to finish as much of the annual audit and the annual comprehensive financial report as he could before he started working in Trenton, and then was going to finish up the job at a pay rate of $40 an hour for West Chester, according to Gully.

But the work was not done, Gully's e-mail states.

"The end result is that he did not properly prepare us for our annual audit," reads the e-mail. "The auditors basically have run out of work and will be doing work on other audits until we can catch things up with them. ... Scott made representations that he would have certain things accomplished by certain dates, and basically he didn't do them.

"We've also come to learn that he has run some of the township funds into a negative cash balance, which will result in an audit finding next year," Gully wrote. "We didn't run out of actual money, he just didn't have it in the proper fund.

"....The good news is we have more money available to us than we thought. The bad news is our accounting is inaccurate."

Campbell disputes most of the financial allegations outlined in Gully's e-mail, noting that he gave the township 30 days' notice when he quit. He would not, however, comment on accusations from the township that he was responsible for the January overdraft.

"The audit was not complete, but it was never going to be a good time to leave," he said. "I tried to do a 30-day notice situation to give some more time, but obviously the view was that wasn't enough. I don't have much to comment on that."

Campbell said if there were negative balances, it must have happened after his departure.

"The last month I reconciled with West Chester, in April, I can tell you there wasn't any negative situation at that time.

"I do feel like the financial situation I left in West Chester is a very strong one," he said. "I thought that overall my experience with West Chester was a very positive one. It's unfortunate that some of these situations have arisen and I'm just going to try to concentrate on the city of Trenton, where I'm at right now."

Trenton Mayor Roy Wilham said the city didn't know about the pornography incidents because he and the City Council didn't check Campbell's personnel file at West Chester before hiring him.

Only customary checks

Trenton officials had a customary criminal background and court records check on Campbell, Wilham said, adding that council liked the way he handled himself and answered questions.

They also were impressed with Campbell's experience. He worked at the Ohio State Auditor's Office before going to West Chester in August 2000. He is a certified public accountant and graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in accounting. At a June 17 Trenton City Council session, Campbell told them about his previous discipline in West Chester and mentioned Gully's e-mail, Wilham said, but Wilham said he hasn't seen it and did not want to comment.

"We have to judge him on what he's done here. That's what council sees," Wilham said. "He's in good standing. Whatever he did (in West Chester), he was judged on accordingly. If they thought the offenses were serious enough to dismiss him, they would have done it. It's their problem, not ours."

Pornography probe

Records obtained by the Enquirer show that Judith Carter, assistant administrator of West Chester Township, orally counseled Campbell on Feb. 22, 2002, about viewing pornography on township computers after she received a memo from Tracy Duvelius, the township's payroll/employee benefit coordinator.

Duvelius wrote that she and another employee had received "several complaints" from administrative employees in the past several months of Campbell being on "porno Web sites."

"As you walk down the hall from the copy room through the file room, you can view what he has on his computer," Duvelius wrote. "I have been unfortunate enough to be one to see this. I thought maybe it was just a one- or two-time thing, but obviously by the complaints he is on these Web sites frequently."

Duvelius requested that Carter get a printout of Campbell's Web site visits from the last couple of months to see which ones he was on.

"It is my understanding that once you have gotten this report," Duvelius wrote, "you will speak to him."

Carter said last week she warned Campbell that such behavior was unacceptable and ordered him to stop. She also told him that he would be subject to further disciplinary action if the incident occurred again.

On April 24, 2002, Duvelius wrote to Carter that she was receiving complaints again about Campbell viewing pornography on the Internet. Again, she asked Carter to run a printout of his Web site visits, this time since February.

The township pulled Internet access from Campbell's computer, personnel records show, and Carter and Township Administrator Dave Gully met with Campbell and warned him it couldn't happen again.

"...Such behavior is unacceptable," Gully wrote Campbell in a May 9, 2002, letter that was placed in Campbell's personnel file. "If this behavior or other similar behavior is further exhibited at the workplace, you will be terminated from your position."

Carter agreed that the township was concerned that by Campbell viewing pornography in plain sight of other employees, it could have opened up potential sexual harassment lawsuits. That's why, she said, she and Gully swiftly acted to stop the problem.

"Maybe we could have been sued for sexual harassment if our staff hadn't immediately taken steps to begin turning that young man around," Trustee Catherine Stoker said. "They acted promptly, responsibly and in a professional manner."

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com.




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