Audit finds circuit clerk owes more money

VICKSBURG — An unfinished 2012 audit of Warren County says Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree owes the county more than previously thought and supervisors will ask for payback this week.

The Vicksburg Post reports the five-member board will meet in special session to demand the clerk repay fees beyond the state-set cap for fee-based public officials.

“We’re just following through on our process with this,” Board President Bill Lauderdale said.

Details of the county’s 2012 audit are not expected to be complete until June 30. However, District 5 Supervisor Richard George said supervisors have learned that the audit when complete will note about $86,000 in cap overpayments.

Ashley-Palmertree and State Auditor Stacey Pickering each has filed complaints in Hinds County Chancery Court over $661,751.75, which the county has demanded she repay to reconcile six years of cap overpayments and subcontractor fees, an amount that includes interest and a reimbursement of investigative costs.

In hers, the three-term clerk has offered to swap debts signed over to her by her father to reduce or eliminate the debt. Pickering has countersued, saying debts during her father’s term in office were settled in 2011 and the county’s demand must be met. The case is before 5th Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas.

The suit and countersuit in Hinds Chancery Court are part of a civil case and, so far, no criminal charges have been brought by the state against Ashley-Palmertree.

The county’s 2011 audit showed the clerk drew $143,709 in salary and benefits during fiscal 2011, an amount that exceeded a sixth straight time the yearly $90,000 state-set cap for fee-based public officials. On Monday, the board OK’d a letter to Pickering asking for help in persuading the clerk to provide a list of people owed $137,995 in money from civil and criminal accounts turned over to the county and held in escrow since February 2012. At the time, Tallulah-based CPA David Richardson was hired to accept records related to the funds. No list of payees has followed that decision.

Pickering’s suit also names CNA Surety and one of its bonding units, Western Surety Company, holder of a pair of $100,000 bonds on Ashley-Palmertree, as a defendant. The company has until May 22 to respond.

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