Issues surrounding the sheriff's office were again discussed at the regular meeting of the Ripley County Commissioners on Monday, April 15.
Auditor Bill Wagner read a letter from Sheriff Tom Grills dated April 15 informing commissioners that money receipted to the sheriff's office for fuel reimbursement to the county for the pipeline transport detail with Northern Clearing has been transferred to the auditor for deposit into the sheriff's garage and motors account. The transfer amount was $1,155.
Grills stated in his letter that the decision to hold back money from deputies providing escorts and lot security was based on the "circumstance" even though statute requires his office to handle "this type of detail, as well as other public safety traffic-related issues." The letter stated that Grills felt the amount was fair compared to the daily pay deputies received. A copy of the fuel log was attached for reference, which showed deputies used 297.6 gallons of fuel for the pipeline detail.
County Attorney John Ertel reported that Northern Clearing's attorney had responded to his request for a list of days and/or shifts deputies provided off-duty transport escorts or lot security between Jan. 14 and March 2. Ertel said it appeared off-duty deputies worked 93 shifts ranging from four hours to 10.5 hours per shift, generating a total of $23,949 in off-duty compensation.
Commissioners expressed $1,155 was not sufficient to cover the cost of fuel, insurance and wear-and-tear on vehicles used in the escort detail. They then authorized Ertel to discuss and seek reasonable reimbursement to the county for the use of the sheriff's department vehicles for off-duty transports and security details on a per-day basis. Commissioners determined a daily per diem rate of $150 be submitted to Northern Clearing for use of the sheriff's cars.
Concerning another issue, Wagner read a second letter from Grills that said per Indiana Code IC 5-14-3-3 (a), he was requesting a "copy of all of the other Ripley County elected officials rewards points stemming from their credit card use." The letter also stated that per Indiana Code IC 5-14-3-4 (b) that he would not be releasing the points redemption that was requested by commissioners, because he had "reason to believe a criminal offense has occurred" regarding his identity.
Grills went on to reference Indiana Code IC 35-43-5-3.5, which includes "a person who knowingly or intentionally obtains, possesses, transfers, or uses the identifying information of another person with the intent to (1) without the other person's consent or (2) with intent to harm or defraud another person; assume another person's identity; or profess to be another person." Violation of the code is considered to be a Class D felony.
The accusation came from Grills following an attempt by Wagner to access the sheriff's credit card account to obtain a point redemption report. The letter from Grills states that Wagner tried to "access the account without his authorization," resulting in the account being locked. He referenced an email that he sent to Wagner on April 9 asking him for his "statutory authority" to access the sheriff's credit card account without his consent," adding that he had not heard back from Wagner.
Wagner said he called the credit card company back in October to obtain a copy of the point redemption report for the sheriff's credit card. After unsuccessfully being able to obtain information from the automated system, Wagner said he called customer service who informed him that he was not an authorized user on the account and information could not be released to him. He then said he sent a request to the sheriff asking for the information from him directly.
Wagner asked Ertel for advice in the matter. Ertel explained since payment for the sheriff's credit card is made through county funds, rewards belong to the county, also. He asked commissioners if they had approved the sheriff's card, along with two other cards issued to the sheriff's office, adding that any interest or penalties could fall on the cardholder. Reiners said commissioners were unaware that any credit cards had been issued to any county departments or offices.
Ertel went on to explain the credit card(s) must be utilized for county governmental purposes, and it is the auditor's duty to periodically review the use of the funds to ensure appropriate use. Ertel also said the redemption record request comes from authority through the State Board of Accounts, as the invoices are paid for with public/county funds. He added that as pertaining to Indiana Code IC 5-14-3-3 (a) the use of the point redemption report is not part of a criminal investigation.
Commissioner Rob Reiners asked Ertel if anyone aside from commissioners is authorized to request a credit card that spends tax dollars. Ertel said only if it is authorized by commissioners. Ertel said there is no specific statute that applies, but the compliance manual for the auditor issued by the State Board of Accounts provides authority to request the accounting of the redemption of credit card points earned. He suggested if the reward points report was not provided voluntarily by Grills, an audit could be requested from the State Board of Accounts.
A claim for two new cruisers was discussed. The title affidavit said titles would be issued to the Ripley County Sheriff. Commissioners advised Wagner to inform Grills his request will be approved once a correction has been made issuing the titles to them instead. A title affidavit from the sheriff stated the auditor already has 12 titles, in addition to five new ones that were attached. The affidavit stated "commissioners are responsible for proper filing, storage and safekeeping, holding harmless the Sheriff of Ripley County for the improper use or loss of said titles." It was unclear if commissioners signed the affidavit.