Albaugh: ‘My voice, my knowledge, and my integrity are not for sale’

Commissioner candidate Judy Albaugh

1. Why are you running?

2. While there has been debate about the cause, it is without dispute that you were fired as fiscal director by a majority of the current board of commissioners. How would you approach potentially having to work with one – or maybe two – of the commissioners who fired you?

3. The domestic relations audit, a $1M error in the county budget, issues with a 911 audit. These seem to cite – or evidence – pretty clear failures on your part while serving as the county’s fiscal director? How can the taxpayer trust you a second time to manage the county’s money when the first time resulted in these issues and your termination?

4. Why did you choose to align yourself with Commissioner Morrison in this process? Did you sign on with Commissioner Morrison specifically to block another individual’s candidacy?

5. What do you see in the future for Warren County? What do you hope to accomplish if elected to a term?

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One of the five Republican candidates vying for a seat on the Warren County Board of Commissioners is Judy Albaugh, former fiscal director for the county. Albaugh has lived in Warren County for all sixty years of her life and according to her, she hopes to retire here.

“Why I’m running is very easy…” she said. “I worked in the county’s offices for a little more than two years, hired under the former commissioners, and worked some under the current commissioners, and (I) got more involved in what went on in local government and the decision making during that time than I ever really had paid much attention to before.”

She explained that as fiscal director she “had a very strong feeling about some of the decisions that could or should have been made regarding numbers, expenses and the budget and how it affects property taxes overall.”

“I think property taxes are a big concern to all of our citizens in Warren,” Albaugh asserted. “My biggest concern is doing what we can to hold the line on property taxes, talking to the state to see if there are any other options so we’re not taxing people out of their homes.”

“My concern is for Warren County,” she said, “that’s why I’m running.

Running a campaign for public office would be a daunting challenge under most any circumstances. However, Albaugh faces the added pressure of knowing that two out of the three current Board of County Commissioners who are seeking re-election voted to have her terminated from her position as fiscal director in January 2018.

While the fact that Albaugh was fired from her position has never been in dispute, there has been some debate surrounding the cause. In an article that ran in the January 11, 2018 edition of the Times Observer it was announced that the position was open. When asked about the circumstances that led to the vacancy, Commissioner Ben Kafferlin declined to comment.

At that time, commissioner Cindy Morrison claimed to have played no role in the sudden gap in staffing and stated she “would have handled the situation differently.”

The following month, a February 6, 2018 article that ran in the Times Observer revealed Albaugh had been terminated in an executive session that occurred on January 5, 2018. That story alleged that the ‘behind closed doors’ firing of Albaugh was a violation of the Sunshine Law, the Act that requires any meeting of public officers be disclosed to the public.

Section 708 (a) of the Sunshine Act clearly states that a closed-door, executive session may be held in order ‘to discuss any matter involving employment, appointment, termination of employment, terms, and conditions of employment…’ but reading on to Section 708 (c) clarifies that any “Official action held pursuant to subsection (a) shall be taken at an open meeting.’

According to the February 8 edition of the Times Observer, that open meeting did not take place until Wednesday, February 7, one day after the Times Observer reported on the alleged Sunshine law violation. This raised some eyebrows suggesting that an ‘official action’ had been taken during the Jan 5 executive session.

By that time, Albaugh had been relieved of her duties for one full month. In advance of her termination, she claims to have been “given a verbal warning and then I was given a warning in writing that stated ‘as the fiscal director (whose) job was to express financial opinions and make fiscal related recommendations, I was told by two of the three commissioners (in warnings verbal and written) that if my fiscal opinion did not support what two of the three commissioners wanted to do, that I was no longer permitted to speak (my opinion) in a public meeting.”

On top of that, Albaugh claims she was told: “not to speak (my opinion) to family, to friends, to people on the street, nor to the newspaper.”

At the January 5 executive session in which she was terminated, Albaugh recalls Commissioner Ben Kafferlin stating to her that she was “an at-will employee” and that it was “no longer (his) will to have you here.” This sentiment was reiterated by Commissioner Eggleston, according to Albaugh.

“Commissioner Morrison pressed for information as to why they were doing this,” Albaugh said. (She) “pointed out several good things I had done for the county, to save the county money, that I had been a good employee all along and that there was no reason for this.”

Then Commissioner Eggleston, addressing Albaugh directly, said “Let me ask you this. Did you give permission to Commissioner Morrison to show the warning to the newspaper (stating) you were not allowed to speak in public meetings?” according to Albaugh.

“I said yes, I did give her permission to share that information,” Albaugh recalls.

To which Eggleston replied, “I rest my case. You’re done.”

After her January 5 termination, Albaugh says she was “offered a settlement agreement. A very small payment and paid health insurance by the county for twelve months,” on the condition that she would “sign an agreement stating that she would never speak in the next two years of anything that went on in county government.”

Albaugh was concerned with some of the wording of the agreement, which was drawn up by the county solicitor at that time, John Shreve.

“I asked (for a) definition of things ‘confidential in nature,'” she said. “Certainly I’m aware of lawsuits and other things I would not speak of. I understand there are certain things that are confidential, but as for the rest, this is county government, it’s pretty much public information.”

“I didn’t want to inadvertently give away any confidential information,” and she said they “couldn’t really give me a definition on that,” and advised her to “seek my own legal counsel.”

“So I did,” and although she had “no intent on signing that agreement because I knew there might be a chance I might want to run for commissioner down the road, and to not talk about anything in county government would surely prohibit me from trying to run a campaign for commissioner.”

Albaugh brought the agreement to a local attorney who pointed out that the two year period stated in the agreement may extend into perpetuity in some instances. In addition to that, she was warned that the agreement was not only designed to cover her own voice, but that of her “children or children’s children, or what your parents may say if (I’ve) discussed anything of county government with them.”

Albaugh asked the attorney to draft a letter to the commissioners asserting that “my voice, and my knowledge and my integrity are not for sale.”

According to Albaugh, the attorney said: “I could, but you don’t need to pay me to do this, you can do it yourself, just say exactly what you’ve said.”

In a letter obtained by the Times Observer dated January 19, 2018, and addressed to all three county commissioners, Albaugh “declined the severance agreement offered during January 5, 2018, executive session,” when she was “informed my employment as the fiscal director was being terminated.”

In the letter, she further goes on to record statements made by Commissioners Kafferlin and Eggleston regarding her status as an at-will employee, and that it was “no longer (their) will that my employment be continued”, and that Commissioner Morrison objected.

Albaugh closed her letter by restating her assertion that her “voice, integrity, and knowledge were not for sale.”

The impetus that brought about this series of events remained under a cloud of uncertainty for many news cycles. It wasn’t until May 14, 2018, Times Observer story that began to shine some light on the details behind Albaugh’s termination.

In that story, it is reported that an audit performed on the Domestic Relations Office covering the 2013-2015 fiscal years uncovered $160,885 in undocumented expenses that are expected to be reported to the state’s Bureau of Child Support Enforcement, who undertook the audit.

At that time, Commissioner Kafferlin made statements pertaining to the actions taken by the commissioners to resolve the issue, but in doing so placed the blame squarely on “the fiscal office here at the county” for failing “to adequately document certain expenditures.”

This has been suggested as evidence of clear failures on the part of the county’s fiscal director and seemed to provide an adequate explanation for Albaugh’s termination.

But a copy of the domestic relations audit in question obtained by the Times Observer clearly documents several instances of undocumented expenditures in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Of the findings revealed in the audit, those relating to the fiscal office are “very minor (but) you find some pretty major ones in some others areas.”

According to Albaugh, she was hired by the former Board of Commissioners on September 14, 2015, which means she was only employed as fiscal director for 3 1/2 months out of the three year audit period.

“Every invoice that is paid for Domestic Relations goes through Judy” Kuzminski, the head of the Domestic Relations Department, according to Albaugh, “for her verification that the expenses are valid.”

“My department had a hard time locating copies of invoices from past expenses,” Albaugh said, “those weren’t invoices that were taken care of by myself, my assistant in the fiscal department.”

While it may seem as though Albaugh is indicating prior fiscal directors in her own defense, she feels very strongly that “Ultimately, the person who oversees the approval of expenses, the calculation, the verification and the reporting to the states is Judy Kuzminski.”

Albaugh states firmly that she believes there was “no malicious intent, no fraud” behind her department’s inability to locate invoices. In her time as fiscal director she claims to have encountered “sloppy filing, sloppy accounting, checks issued to incorrect accounts,” and a lot of things that needed to be straightened up.

On page 3, Section B of the audit’s findings, it is indicated that the “Warren County ‘Fiscal Director’ and/or ‘Chief Clerk/HR Director’ is responsible for maintaining adequate documentation. Item #1 under section B states that “Warren County ‘Chief Clerk/HR Director failed to provide sufficient supporting documentation for health insurance expenditures totaling $160,885 in (calendar years) 2013, and 2014 respectively, prior to Albaugh’s appointment to fiscal director.

“That’s not me,” she said, “There is a title right in there.”

Albaugh believes her termination was “purely about what I said in public meetings, that I didn’t say things in support of commissioners.” she said. “Now, these weren’t things against commissioners, these were financial opinions, these were based on the numbers.”

At the February 7, 2018, commissioners meeting that made her firing public, Albaugh had prepared a statement questioning the need for public disclosure of her termination that she had been well aware of for the past month. In that statement, she also asks why it was necessary to force her family and friends “to read of my termination again and again, especially without stating the cause.”

Up until then, the only discernible reason she was given had nothing to do with her accounting abilities. “I think Commissioner Kafferlin even said that it wasn’t my accounting, but ‘what she might say’.”

When it comes to financial issues, to Albaugh “it’s black or red, negative or positive, can we afford it, can we not afford it, that’s what my opinions were based on.”

She adds that individual commissioners and their goals have no bearing on how she forms her financial opinions. “There were times I sided with each one of them on things, and there were times I sided against each one of them.” But ultimately she claims that it was both Commissioners Kafferlin and Eggleston assertion that her decisions were more in line with Commissioner Morrison.

“They probably were,” she said, “purely because she takes a more conservative spending avenue than what the other two do. It wasn’t because it was Commissioner Morrison, it was because of the numbers.”

But at the public meeting held in February 2018, Eggleston and Kafferlin presented new “evidence” pertaining to her firing. According to Albaugh, Eggleston furnished a copy of a paid invoice in the amount of $15,800.00 signed only by Commissioner Morrison. At that hearing, it was alleged that Commissioner Morrison and Albaugh had engaged in a conspiracy to cover up the hiring of outside services.

Eggleston accused Albaugh of entering the payment and issuing the check. This, combined with the fact that Morrison was the only commissioner who initialed the invoice, served as evidence that they were in cahoots, according to Albaugh.

Albaugh stated that all three of the commissioners were aware of this payment and what it was for. She also has provided documentation of a multi-page disbursement schedule which includes the $15,800.00 payment in question, that was signed off on by Commissioner Kafferlin.

Albaugh would also like to clear the apparent confusion surrounding her affiliation with Commissioner Morrison. She was at the “Republican committee meeting where Commissioner Kafferlin announced Tricia Durbin as a running mate. I don’t have a running mate.”

“I am a Republican running on a Republican ticket,” she announced, “there are a total of five Republicans and I am running against the other four Republicans.”

She says she doesn’t understand the way that signs get grouped together, “It’s surprising when you see how many households have a husband and wife that are different parties.”

“Anybody who’s willing to put my sign in their yard and have my name out there is where my sign’s going.”

As far as what she hopes to accomplish if she were elected to a term, Albaugh says “I’m not really going in there with a long list of items that I want to accomplish.”

“There’s things that I would like to see for Warren,” she explained, but “I don’t know if it’s up to the commissioner’s office and the taxpayer’s dollars to do that. I do believe it’s up to the commissioners to help support people to do that.”

Whether it’s helping individuals starting a business, or a business expanding, if there’s anything that the commissioners can do to help facilitate that, she says “definitely that would be high on my list.”

She cites a desire for a brick and mortar off-campus college, and the desire and needs for a technical school here in Warren as examples of projects she could be interested in in the future.

Another issue at the top of her list is the problem of drug abuse in the county.

“To me, the budget is probably the biggest thing,” but adds that “all these things relate into the budget.”

At the candidates’ forum, she detailed all of the ways that the fallout from drug abuse affects every department from the “Sherrif’s Department, the jail, domestic relations, probation, human services, ultimately even property values and taxes.”

Although she certainly has no magic wand solution to the problem, she says “if we can come up with something, it’s something we really need to look at.”

At the heart of her campaign is a deep concern to “deliver the necessary services the county is mandated to provide and to deliver them in the most cost-efficient manner for the citizens.”

“I will work with anyone who’s willing to work with me,” she said, “truthfully I regret that I’m no longer up there. If I was still there as fiscal director, I probably wouldn’t be running as commissioner right now.”

During her time working for the county, Albaugh claims many “employes of the county thought I should run for commissioner in the future.”

“Not because I was a pushover,” she said, “because I played it straight with everyone. I think they appreciated that. They didn’t always get yes answers from me, but they got honesty from me.”

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