County meeting gets feisty over travel costs

BUCKHANNON — The Upshur County clerk has contacted the state auditor’s office about how to proceed concerning a disputed reimbursement request from the prosecuting attorney’s office.

Upshur County Prosecuting Attorney David Godwin on Thursday said county clerk Carol Smith had failed to comply with state grant procedures governing employee an expense reimbursement of about $100.

But Smith told the Upshur County Commission that she was simply following the county’s policy regarding reimbursement, which requires that employees submit receipts for expenditures they submit to the county.

The disagreement stems from a reimbursement request submitted to the county clerk’s office by victim services coordinator Matthew Cutright in November. According to Godwin, Cutright attended a five-day training conference in Charleston in November and when he returned, he requested to be reimbursed for the per diem — or per day — amount allotted for food expenses. Godwin said the county clerk’s office, specifically its bookkeeper Debra Hull, denied the request and asked Cutright to provide receipts for his expenditures.

The matter came up during a break during Thursday’s weekly commission meeting when Godwin, who was not on the meeting agenda, said he had a “complaint about the county not reimbursing one of my employees.” 

Smith said there was a “discrepancy” between the county policy, which requires employees to provide receipts prior to being reimbursed, and Cutright’s per diem request.

However, Godwin said that according to the guidelines governing the grant which funded Cutright’s training — the Victim of Crime Act Victim Assistance, or VOCA, program — the county is required to reimburse Cutright a per diem amount of either $18 or $24 a day, and Cutright does not have to provide receipts to be reimbursed.

The VOCA grant is a federal grant administered by the state of West Virginia, and Godwin said an official with the W.Va. Division of Justice and Community Services had specified that Cutright was “following his state requirements for the meal per diem for travel and training in order to fulfill federal grant requirements.”

“You’re taking it upon yourself to follow county procedures,” Godwin said. “I approved the expenditures. You don’t really have the authority to administer the funds that are appropriated to me, and it’s being done according to the law.

“Meanwhile, I have a young man who had several hundred dollars that he’s had to pay in order to avoid paying interest [on the amount he spent on food at the training] for 2 1/2 months now because you want to argue.”

Godwin later said the amount Cutright is owed totals about $105.

Smith said she was only following county protocol by requiring that the receipts be turned in, but added that she had contacted the state auditor’s office to see how to proceed.

“I put in another call to the state auditor’s office,” Smith said. “When we’ve been audited before, we’ve been written up for not following our own (county) policy. So when you are sitting in the seat [of county clerk], you try extra hard to follow it.”

Godwin said, “You can’t have it both ways. It’s very unprofessional. You’re supposed to be facilitating the mission, not getting in the way of it.”

Smith said it’s the county clerk’s job to enforce the policy, which people often don’t follow.

“You have to realize that we have a policy [regarding employee reimbursement] and people tend not to want to follow that policy,” Smith said, adding that she had contacted the auditor’s office and was awaiting a response.

Commissioner Terry Cutright said the county is required to comply with the requirements of federal grants.

“I think with every grant we’ve got, we’ve got to follow the rules of that grant,” Cutright said.

Commission president Sam Nolte said the county had learned several things from the incident.

“I think we’ve got a couple things figured out,” Nolte said. “I think in the past it’s been county policy (to require receipts), so that’s probably what the employee was trying to follow, but I agree with you about the grant. You are the county attorney and you probably know these things.”

Commissioner Troy “Buddy” Brady said the county effectuated the policy requiring receipts because some reimbursement requests in the past have been outlandish.

“I’ve seen things before that were definitely questionable, that we have looked at and went, ‘There is no way in the world that this is right,’” Brady said, “so we put a policy in effect for county employees if they go somewhere, we’re going to pay for your meal, but bring us a bill and we’ll pay for it.”

Godwin apologized to Smith, saying he hadn’t intended to be personally hostile.

Smith said the county will give Cutright  a reimbursement check next week, as long as the state auditor agrees that that’s proper protocol.

“We’ve contacted the auditor to give clarification, and we will go from there,” Smith said. “As long as the auditor says it’s OK, we will have him a check next week.”

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