(La Porte County, IN) - La Porte County Auditor Tim Stabosz says he's prepared for a judge to decide, if necessary, whether he's acting within his authority by withholding payment to the county attorney until he verifies the work submitted on his invoices is valid.
Stabosz's response was fueled by a March 15 written opinion from State Examiner Paul Joyce that a county auditor under state law is not assigned to review every claim with a fine-tooth comb.
Joyce is with the Indiana State Board of Accounts, which oversees local government financing and provides local governments with advise on matters related to local government spending practices.
"The auditor is not statutorily charged with the duty to scrutinize each individual element of the claim or inquire into the specifics of work product," Joyce said.
Joyce also said the public officer or person receiving the goods and services must review and approve the claim. In this case, the La Porte County Commissioners are the recipient of the services provided by La Porte County Attorney Shaw Friedman.
The commissioners, who annually appoint the La Porte County Attorney, sued Stabosz last year for ignoring their orders to pay Friedman the total amount reflected in his invoices.
In December, both sides reached an out-of-court settlement where Stabosz paid most of what was owed to Friedman but not the $2,500 for work on invoices he questioned.
Stabosz strongly disagreed with Joyce, saying the auditor's job is to make sure all tax dollars are appropriately spent.
Stabosz also said Joyce had not asked him for the invoices and other specifics he's obtained that lead him to believe that Friedman is billing for thing like political work and developing policy.
"Look, Paul Joyce is out to lunch, OK. Paul Joyce is out to lunch. He's looking at it from a very rigid perspective. Don't tell me what to do when I'm the one who's responsible for protecting the financial integrity of La Porte County," Stabosz said.
Stabosz said some of the billings from Friedman are also for work that mirrors the duties of a county administrator. Currently, the county administrator position does not exist in La Porte County government. Stabosz also maintains that Friedman has no authority under his contract with the commissioners to act in such a capacity.
"The contract they have now with Friedman & Associates does not authorize him to act as county administrator, and he's billing the county for things that clearly involve acting as county administrator or county manager," Stabosz said. "You can tell just by reading the line item in the bill that what does this have to do with being an attorney or even being a policy advisor."
Friedman has accused Stabosz of using public office to settle personal and political scores in the past. He also denounced a majority of the La Porte County Council for voting to support Stabosz in his practices despite Stabosz continuing with what Friedman described as a pattern of making "outrageous and unsupported claims against those he disagrees with."
Friedman is suing Stabosz for defamation of character for alleging he runs county government in a lawsuit he filed in February that remains undecided. Friedman also recently announced he would file another lawsuit against the auditor in Stabosz's capacity as a private citizen for non-payment. He says that the non-payment results from actions beyond his responsibilities as an auditor.
Stabosz said he's holding firm in his beliefs and won't pay Friedman on claims he cannot verify as legitimate despite the opinion from the state.
Currently, Stabosz said there is no case law in the state to decide if a County Auditor has ultimate authority over an executuve branch of government like a County Commission in reviewing and deciding whether to pay claims and welcomes defending his position in court, if necessary.
Stabosz said another elected official or members of an elected body having final authority to order payment would be a loophole around the responsibilities of a County Auditor who he considers the ultimate guardian of taxpayer dollars.
Stabosz said Friedman could help solve this problem by providing him with additional information he's seeking to substantiate his claims. In support of Stabosz, the council asked Stabosz to pay Friedman on claims he knows are valid while trying to determine the validity of the other claims.
Stabosz is withholding close to $20,000 in claims from Friedman over the past two months. Stabosz said he hasn't paid any of those claims yet because it's too time-consuming to review each one while investigating the other claims he questions.