Accusations of “blind partisanship” and “corruption” by Ellis County Treasurer Lisa Schlegel prompted Ellis County Commissioner Dean Haselhorst to respond Monday evening with a prepared statement at the commission’s regular meeting.
The newest statement — Haselhorst’s second in recent weeks — is a response to Schlegel’s 4,500-word public letter accusing Haselhorst, Commissioner Barb Wasinger, Commissioner Marcy McClelland, County Clerk Donna Maskus, County Counselor Bill Jeter and County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes of bullying her for doing her job and attempting to micromanage her, as well as blaming Maskus for tax statements not being mailed efficiently.
Introducing his comments, Haselhorst referred to Schlegel’s “voluminous letters in last week’s media” and said “I am tempted not to respond at all, because it is tough to know where to begin addressing all the claims.”
Countering the partisanship claim, Haselhorst said “First off, all three members of the County Commission are members of the same political party as Ms. Schlegel — and the opposite party from County Clerk Donna Maskus.”
Listening to Haselhorst’s statement were Wasinger and McClelland, a few county department heads, two news reporters, and a few other county and law enforcement officials at the sparsely attended regular meeting in The Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main St.
“It is not partisanship to ask questions when we as Commissioners have been approached by our constituents. It is not partisanship to express our hope that county officials get along. It is not partisanship — and certainly not corruption — to desire to communicate in open, public meetings rather than on the editorial pages,” he said.
Haselhorst went on to defend Jeter and Smith-Hanes against Schlegel’s allegations they are using taxpayer money to instigate a smear campaign.
“These two individuals are not engaged in any taxpayer-funded attempt to make a county official look bad,” Haselhorst said. “In fact, engaging in such activity would violate the publicly-available contracts these individuals have signed with this commission.”
Schlegel didn’t attend Monday evening’s meeting.
Contacted afterward by phone, Schlegel read a copy of Haselhorst’s statement and responded that she preferred not to comment at length, but rather wanted Ellis County voters to read her detailed essay for themselves in an advertisement she is personally paying to publish in the Nov. 4 edition of The Hays Daily News.
The essay also is published already on Schlegel’s official government web site, www.ellisco.net/566/Treasury, under the link “Treasury Response to Commissioners.”
Schlegel said Haselhorst’s comments do nothing to detract from her original statements about the way she’s being treated by him, Wasinger, McClelland, Maskus, Jeter and Smith-Hanes. For starters, she noted, Haselhorst previously was a Democrat and later switched parties to run as a Republican.
“It is nefarious and it is corrupt and he knows it,” Schlegel said, “I’m just not going to take it.”
The commissioners are attacking her office, she said. “I’m just trying to do my job. I just wanted the tax information by the deadline,” said Schlegel. “It’s amazing to me what this has devolved into because of a simple request to follow the law. It’s absurd. It’s shocking to me.”
Schlegel said she wants voters to read the essay for themselves and make up their own minds about the people running the county’s government. Wasinger will be on the ballot in the Nov. 6 general election, running against incumbent Democrat Eber Phelps for the Kansas House of Representatives 111th District. Haselhorst is co-chair of her campaign.
Schlegel has no plans to dive deeper into the situation with Haselhorst, Wasinger or McClelland, she said, adding however, “I don’t think they’ve seen the last of it.”
“It’s up to the people, they can decide,” she said. “The people need to do the investigating… Why do these people want to be in office?”
Schlegel said that in the year she’s been treasurer, “it’s very disturbing” what she has seen.
Asked if anyone is doing anything illegal, Schlegel responded “I have no idea. But I think they’re trying to make it look like I’m doing something illegal, and I’m not.”
Haselhorst said Jeter and Smith-Hanes have attempted unsuccessfully to meet with Schlegel to get answers to questions raised by the commissioners. Schlegel responded that she’s also tried to meet with Haselhorst.
Haselhorst said Monday evening in his statement that it’s his hope that Maskus will meet her statutory deadlines for turning over property valuation information to Schlegel. County clerks across the state, however, have said the Nov. 1 deadline is routinely missed for purposes of providing accurate information to county treasurers.
“We hope Lisa Schlegel will answer questions about her expenditures when we ask them,” Haselhorst said in his statement. “We hope all county elected officials can work together to highlight the positive things that are happening in Ellis County. And we hope that serving our constituents will not be perceived as an attack on anyone. Because it is not.”
Asked if there will be any further action taken on the commissioner’s previous efforts to ask Schlegel to reactivate video cameras in her office for security purposes or to explain office furniture she replaced with a break area, Haselhorst said he didn’t know if anyone in the county would pursue that.
Speaking after the meeting, Schlegel defended her move to shut off two of the 22 video cameras in her office, saying that 24-7 recorded footage consumes large amounts of costly data storage. The cameras were installed by the previous treasurer, Ann Pfeifer, a move Schlegel said drew criticism at the time from the commissioners on grounds they were concerned about the expense.
“She spent a lot of money on that system,” Schlegel said, noting, “I didn’t shut off any cameras that are recording cash-handling zones.”
As an elected official, Schlegel said the way she manages her office is up to her, including building a tall cubicle to give her front counter employees privacy for their breaks during the day.
“It’s none of their business,” Schlegel said. “They don’t have the right to bother me about what I spend for furniture in my office as long as I’m within my budget.”
“It is nefarious, it is corrupt and it’s unacceptable,” Schlegel said. “The truth is out. People can do with it what they want.’’