Concerns over the Ottawa County Commission chairman's sole decision to obligate the county's general fund to absorbing a $7,900 debt of the tax assessor's office prompted questions and an apology at Monday's regular commission meeting.
Russell Earls, a county requisitioning officer and chairman of the county commission, requisitioned a purchase order to relieve the county tax assessor's office of debt related to a Jeep Liberty purchased last year for office use.
According to Earls, assessor Linda Kelly no longer needs the Jeep and the county-owned vehicle currently used by the Ottawa County floodplain administrator is not reliable. Based on those circumstances, Earls made the decision to have the county clerk's first deputy call for a pay-off and requisition a purchase order for payment through the county's general fund.
All three commissioners signed the order for the payment last week without voicing any concerns.
On Monday, an assistant district attorney addressed matters regarding the legal restrictions of vehicles used by county officials, District 1 commissioner John Clarke voiced his concern that the purchase of the Jeep should have been brought before the full commission for a decision before a purchase order was created.
Nothing illegal transpired, according to county officials, and neither Clarke nor District 2 commissioner Kenneth Palmer object to the purchase.
“I just think that this matter should have come before the full board,” Clarke said. “I consider this a major purchase from the county's general fund and we are the board of county commissioners … it should have come before all of us.”
Earls, as a requisitioning officer, has the right to requisition payment for purchases under $10,00 at his discretion without approval of the full commission, according to Brenda Ellis of the Ottawa County clerk's office.
Historically, large purchases are presented to the full three-member board of commissioners for consideration,
“I want to apologize,” Earls said. “I would never do anything that is not in the best interest of county government.”
Earls said he thought that he had asked that the item be put on the agenda for discussion.
Ellis clarified for the full panel that Earls only asked for a pay-off amount and that the purchase be put on a purchase order.
“I did not question it because you are a requisitioning officer and you have the authority to put on a purchase order out of county government,” Ellis said.
It is only when a purchase exceeds $10,000 that county officials are required to set an item out for bids, according to Ellis.
The Jeep, when initially purchased by the county, was acquired through the bidding process.
“I take great pride in the fact that I have not done anything to compromise my colleagues' trust,” Earls said. “I want you guys to know that if you ever have a problem with anything that I have done, talk to me about it.”
Earls said he felt like he was being chastised for something that he did in good faith.
Clarke said that he was not trying to insinuate that Earls had done anything wrong and reiterated his point that he considered the item to be a major purchase and that all large expense items should come before the full panel for approval.
“We are all involved in this,” Clarke said.
In other business, the commission:
€ Observed a moment of silence in memory of Dr. Bill Goodman who died unexpectedly last week. Goodman served on the Ottawa County Excise Board and was recently appointed to serve on a committee to review options for a countywide ambulance service.
€ Named LeeAnn Goza to serve on a committee formed to oversee the expenditure juror fee donations.
€ Authorized Betty Farmer and Janice Kellogg to provide attendant care for juveniles