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Editorial: Sullivan County trustee should resign from office

Editorial Board • Feb 4, 2020 at 3:15 PM

Sullivan County Trustee Susan Ramsey failed last year to justify closing satellite offices in Kingsport and Bristol and has now failed to justify a blistering state audit of her department that found in every instance errors were due to her lack of management oversight.

Ramsey took office July 1, 2018. Last April she angered county residents by closing satellite offices where property owners paid county property taxes. She said she did so to save money, yet she didn’t know how much money would be saved. To add insult to injury, the affected employee positions — though terminated — were nonetheless budgeted for the following fiscal year.

She didn’t sit down with the employees to explain the terminations but informed them by letter delivered by the county attorney. Ramsey said she might replace the satellite offices with other options but didn’t know what those options might be or what they might cost. Nor did she know how many county residents were affected by the closures.

Now comes a state audit, the most critical the county has seen in recent memory. Audit findings glaringly highlight the fact that Susan Ramsey is incompetent in the performance of her duties as trustee, essentially the county’s treasurer responsible for collecting all state and county property taxes, keeping track of the county’s bills, and all money received and payments made.

When former trustee Frances Harrell retired in June of 2018, the county had a clean audit, meaning that not a single problem was found. But under Ramsey, the audit found significant problems in basic bookkeeping.

Ramsey told the Times News, “When somebody (Harrell) walks out the doors after 40 years, you lose a lot of experience.”

That’s true. But the failures found in the audit don’t relate to experience. They relate to inability, pure and simple.

Auditors found that “general ledger account balances for cash on hand, cash in bank, and investments were not reconciled accurately with actual balances and supporting statements” not just in a few instances, but “from July 2018 through June 2019. While personnel attempted to reconcile these accounts, significant differences had not been identified and corrected.”

Ramsey’s office did not file a required monthly trustee’s report with the director of accounts and budgets within a fixed period in compliance with state law, not just on a few instances but for the entire fiscal year except for one month. As well, the report states, “Numerous months’ reports were inaccurate. This required multiple revisions and re-submissions after errors and identified problems were corrected.” Ramsey also failed to pay some commissions to the county monthly as required by state law.

In her responses to problems identified by the auditors Ramsey in part blames them on the office lacking experience after her predecessor’s departure. But we checked, and the vast majority of Ramsey’s employees are holdovers from Harrell’s staff.

No, these issues relate to Ramsey’s competence. Because she apparently lacks it, she has hired it at additional expense to county taxpayers. According to public information available from the county’s payroll office, that help is in the form of a contract worker at a rate of $30 per hour “to guide the department in having a structured plan for all daily accounting duties.”

That sounds like the primary function of the trustee to us. Should that person — in this case Ramsey — be managing the department instead of trying to slough off her duties to a contractor?

Isn’t that Ramsey’s job? Isn’t that why county residents are paying her $101,000 annually?

Susan Ramsey demonstrates repeatedly that she is ill-equipped to hold the office of Sullivan County trustee. She would do well, both for herself and the county, to resign.