News and Tribune

July 23, 2013

Clark County employee’s salary subsidized by diverted funds

Then-commissioners instructed Clark-Floyd Landfill to pay highway superintendent $14,000 per year

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE —

Since the end of 2009, the Clark-Floyd Landfill has paid a Clark County employee $14,000 annually out of funds owed to the county on the orders of the then-Clark County Commissioners.

The payouts — currently being investigated by two state agencies  — bring into question whether county officials were acting legally while circumventing the county council’s fiscal authority.

The commissioners had requested in 2009 that the county council approve a raise for then-Highway Superintendent Jim Ross, whose annual salary since his hiring has been $35,471. When the council declined to approve the raise, the commissioners consulted then-county Attorney Greg Fifer about having Ross paid from landfill host fees, which are paid to the county quarterly by Clark-Floyd Landfill Corporation, said former Commissioner Les Young. 

“[Fifer] said that that would be fine, and everything was legal, so that’s what we did,” Young said. “We still think, and I still think it was legal. We wouldn’t have had to do that if the county council would have done the right thing and given the man a raise. After all, he was doing three times the amount of work [as the next employee].” 

But Jack Coffman, a current county commissioner who served on the county council at that time, doesn’t see it that way. 

“I would have felt like that there was some betrayal there, to circumvent the county council’s decision,” Coffman said. 

Fifer e-mailed Robert Lee, the owner and president of Eco-Tech and the Clark-Floyd Landfill Corporation, and Mike Harris, a project engineer with engineering firm Jacobi, Toombs & Lanz, on Nov. 6, 2009, to explain the commissioners’ desire to pay Ross out of host fees the landfill corporation pays to the county, which owns the landfill property. 

“The county commissioners have now determined that they would like to pay an additional $14,000 per year to their county highway superintendent, Jim Ross, from their share of the landfill funds,” Fifer wrote. Fifer copied Young on the e-mail, but neither of the other commissioners. The other two commissioners at the time were Ed Meyer and current Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore. 

Lee did not respond to a message left at his office requesting comment. Harris declined to comment.

IRS Tax Form 1099s obtained by the News and Tribune through an open-records request show that Ross was paid $3,500 by the Clark-Floyd Landfill for the fourth quarter of 2009, and $14,000 per year in 2010, 2011 and 2012. When contacted for comment, Ross, who is still employed by the county as its operations manager, deferred all questions to the county commissioners. 

Meyer did not respond to a message left on his cell phone requesting comment, nor did Fifer. Moore said he had no recollection of discussing the arrangement. 

“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” Moore said. “Now, I’m not going to sit here and say I haven’t been burned before. I’ve signed things before that I wasn’t aware of, but I’d like to think my attorney would have prepped me on that, and I know that conversation never took place.” 

Young said that all three commissioners were aware of and agreed to the arrangement.

The legality of the payments to Ross remains to be seen. 

The commissioners announced at a meeting July 18 that the Indiana State Police, the Indiana State Board of Accounts and the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office had been forwarded the documents showing the correspondence from Fifer and documentation of the payments. 

“A portion of the quarterly revenues that are reinbursed to the county were deducted, and the full amount was not distributed to the county to be applied to the proper funds,” Commissioner Rick Stephenson said July 18, reading from a prepared statement. “This action has been halted immediately and the proper authorites have been notified. Those authorities will decide on any further action to be taken.” 

Coffman and Stephenson both said that they will reserve judgment until independent investigations by the State Board of Accounts and the Indiana State Police conclude.

Included in the documents obtained through the request are spreadsheets that break down the amount of tonnage taken in by the landfill, the corresponding revenue earned and the host fees owed by the landfill corporation to the county for all four quarters of 2012 and the first two quarters of 2013. Also included in each spreadsheet is a field titled “approved deductions,” which equals the amount owed by the corporation to Ross. 

In the spreadsheets from 2012, the amount of the “approved deductions” is $3,500. In the first two quarters of 2013, the amount is $4,000. 

Coffman and Stephenson both said they had no prior knowledge of the arrangement, and both denied having asked that the amount paid to Ross be increased. An attempt to contact Commissioner John Perkins via his cell phone was unsuccessful, and a message could not be left because his mailbox was full. A callback number was left, but Perkins did not return the call.