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Fortville officials clash with Stafford

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FORTVILLE — Tempers flared at Monday night’s Fortville Town Council meeting as embattled Clerk-Treasurer Marcie Stafford confronted the council in a heated exchange over her management of the office.

Town employees and council members were revisiting their dissatisfaction with Stafford’s job performance. Stafford, taking on the criticism publicly for the first time, defended herself from what she has called “bullying” by the council.

“You can only tread water for so long before you drown,” Stafford said, complaining that her requests for assistance with an increasing workload have fallen on deaf ears.

The council members saw things differently, and they blamed Stafford for the problems in her office.

“We as a council are still moving forward as best we can to rectify these issues,” councilwoman Janet Manship said. “We are still struggling with late payments in virtually every account, and it’s an ongoing struggle.”

In a heated discussion that included shouting, profanity and name-calling, Stafford made accusations against officials that were denied as she tried to account for the lack of completed work coming from the clerk’s office.

Fortville Police Lt. Patrick Bratton appeared before the council to complain that no money has been deposited into his retirement account, even though it still was deducted from his paycheck.

“I’d like to know where my money went,” said Bratton, who recently called representatives from the Indiana Public Employee Retirement fund to try to figure out what had gone wrong.

Stafford blamed computer problems for the mixup and reiterated a point she has made repeatedly during her ongoing feud with the council:

“I’m still only one person. You’ve got to pick and choose,” Stafford said. “I had to get the minutes done, I had to do vouchers.”

Bratton said the lack of payments dates to mid-June and that no interest was being drawn on the account while a late fee is being assessed. Stafford said she knew the payments were late and that she was personally liable for whatever costs are assessed against the office.

“It needs to get rectified immediately,” Manship said. “We’re not talking about a payment from two weeks ago. We’re talking about a payment from June 20.”

For the town council members, the police pension issue was just another in a growing list of complaints that led them to file a lawsuit against the clerk several weeks ago. The council also has voted unanimously to demand Stafford’s resignation, although that action carried little weight; Stafford, like the council members, is an elected official.

At the meeting Monday, Stafford vehemently blamed Manship for poisoning her relationship with the town council.

 The root of the office’s problems, Stafford said, is that the town’s workload has ballooned from three bank accounts to 14, with more to do than ever for the clerk-treasurer, on top of a problem with the accounting software. The council has taken steps to help.

It approved the hiring of a deputy clerk in June. According to Stafford, the new clerk starts on Aug. 11. Both sides are hopeful the new position can help resolve the issues, as Stafford’s biggest complaint has been about the workload in the office.

She also accused the council of negligence for not hiring a deputy clerk earlier.

 “I’ve sat here quiet too long,” Stafford said.

Town officials balked at that. Town attorney Alex Intermill said the council had been waiting weeks on Stafford to supply information regarding the deputy clerk’s position and could take no action until that information was received.

The most contentious exchange occurred after Stafford accused the council and Police Chief Bill Knauer of intimidation. The discussion eventually deterioriated as Stafford shouted at the council, using expletives several times as she recounted angry exchanges with the police chief.

The fractured relationship between the clerk-treasurer and the council stems from a number of accounting problems in the office. Those include vouchers not being paid on time; problems with payroll; books not being reconciled and issues with insurance premiums not being paid.

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