Disabled security cameras and construction of a new break area in the office of Ellis County Treasurer Lisa Schlegel is worrying the Ellis County Commissioners.
“I know it was in her budget, I just feel again it could have come to us, and not be surprised through our fellow constituents in the county,” said County Commissioner Dean Haselhorst, speaking during the County Commission’s regular Monday evening meeting. “All of our other elected officials are very open whenever they do anything.”
Haselhorst also said in a prepared statement he read he’d invited Schlegel via email to attend Monday’s meeting at The Ellis County Administrative Center. She responded, however, that she teaches a class and couldn’t make it.
“It would have been nice to have her here,” he said. “I understand she teaches a yoga class at the college.”
Commissioner Marcy McClelland expressed her concern there are existing break rooms available.
“Using taxpayer money that way bothers me,” McClelland said. She also would like better communication with Schlegel.
“We’ve tried to talk with her, and visit with her, and that’s only common respect for each other, which she has not wanted to be a part of,” McClelland said.
Efforts to find out more, haven’t been successful, said Commissioner Barb Wasinger.
“Both the county administrator and I tried to visit with the treasurer prior to all of this, as well as County Counselor Bill Jeter, and it never seemed to work out,” Wasinger said. “I would like to have been able to visit with her more ahead of time and have her make some time for that, but it was not … an option for her.”
Schlegel did not return calls and texts to her cell phone seeking comment on deadline. She did tell Haselhorst in her email reply, “Feel free to ask me any questions you have.”
The commissioners asked County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes to follow up and find out what can be done about the cameras and the break area.
“They need to go back in that office yesterday,” Haselhorst told Smith-Hanes, adding “they should never ever have been removed in the first place.”
Smith-Hanes told the commissioners he’ll meet with the county’s legal counsel, represented Monday by Michael Baxter with the Jeter Law Firm.
“We have to see what we can do at this time,” Baxter said after the meeting, noting the firm will advise the county commissioners on their legal authority.
Schlegel shortly after she took office in October a year ago asked the county’s information technology workers to remove two video security cameras in her private office within the Treasurer’s office on the first floor of The Ellis County Administrative Center, Haselhorst said.
IT workers said the cameras, as part of the building’s infrastructure, couldn’t be removed without modifying the building, but they did disable cabling that allows viewing and recording, he said. The cameras have been in place since county offices were moved to the building in 2015, and also previously in the Ellis County Courthouse.
The commissioners have been aware of the camera issue since shortly after they were disabled, but the issue fell through the cracks until now, Haselhorst said. They must be reinstalled, he told Smith-Hanes.
“We’re not pointing fingers,” Haselhorst said. “This is a public safety issue, an employee issue, a staff issue. If there’s ever any fingers pointed for any such reason, the IT department has it all recorded.”
The commissioners became aware of the new break area after taxpayers began calling them asking what was the new structure going up in the Treasurer’s office.
“I’m very concerned about the $1,100 that was spent, of taxpayer money, including my own taxpayer money, and that of everybody in this room that lives in Ellis County,” Haselhorst said.
The structure — four walls and a ceiling and some benches — measures about 8 feet by 8 feet by 10 feet, he estimated, and is easily seen by people at the payment window for taxes and license plates. Besides phone calls, the commissioners saw invoices in September’s monthly expenditures for supplies from The Home Depot and work by a contractor with the last name of Schlegel for amounts totaling $1,089.54. Haselhorst said the commissioners would like to have known about the break nook before it was built.
He also questioned what had happened to the furniture that was removed from the area. He pointed out, however, that Schlegel is also an elected official, and that the commissioners don’t have authority over her office.
“I want the public to understand that the commission has very limited authority over individual expenditures made by the elected officials,” he read from the statement. “Once we set the annual budget, elected officials are really only subject to the county’s purchasing policy. That policy provides that expenditures of up to $20,000 may be made for an elected official’s office upon presentation of an invoice.”
He said, however, that for the sake of transparency, the county commissioners were hoping Schlegel would address rumors about the matters.
“We are not in a position to micro-manage the work of elected officials,” Haselhorst read, “but we have always enjoyed constructive dialogue with other elected officials in Ellis County and hope that can continue into the future.”