Off Beat: Team Sutter comes unglued
These are indeed turbulent times for Team Sutter, which for many years has been the rock-solid governmental body in this area.
They're conservative, and they know it. There's no financial hanky-panky here. Budgets are on time, and they're balanced, no matter what the state does.
But the recent hubbub about the Fremont-Rideout property tax claim leaves some troubling questions.
When the board decided to give nearly $600,000 back to the hospital, it makes you wonder what else is going on.
Take, for example, an Aug. 27 memo penned by County Counsel Ron Erickson to the supervisors.
"This case was settled in the same manner that many other cases are disposed of by the board, where county counsel or outside counsel obtains prescribed settlement authority and the attorney reaches agreement with the claimant or plaintiff," Erickson wrote.
So the county disposes of other claims like this? Other claims where the public is not told what's going on? How many other $600,000 claims have been settled? Or $6 million?
Erickson tried to explain it again during the Sept. 1 board meeting.
According to the minutes, Erickson told the board that "the only time an announcement is made coming out of closed session, is when the attorney brings in an agreement signed by the opposing party and the board agreed to it and has the chairman sign the agreement."
That's what happened on June 30. But, as you guessed it, there was no public announcement until the county assessor raised a stink.
At that same Sept. 1 meeting, Supervisor James Gallagher explained, according to the minutes, that "there have been settlements similar to this in the past, where settlement authority has been given, and later settlement is finalized outside of closed session and the settlement has been paid by the auditor. He asked Mr. Stark why this situation is different fro what appears to be similar settlements paid, with no problem."
Similar settlements? $600,000? $6 million? No public notice?
You have to wonder about Gallagher's frame of reference. He joined the board in January ... of this year. How would he know what went on prior to that?
But the piece de resistance came from Stark.
"Robert Stark, Sutter County auditor-controller, said he hasn't seen any of these 'similar' claims that have been paid by his office," the minutes noted.
The capper in all of this came Sept. 15 when the board, in what the county counsel said was an "urgency" item, added the tax claim settlement to the board's agenda. The board approved it again, in public.
Fittingly, there was a typo in the document that had to be corrected. The typo would have required Fremont-Rideout to pay the county $588,024, not the other way around.
Team Sutter — maybe not so rock solid after all.