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Sunday, December 23,2012

Commissioners reprimand dog warden over missing money

By David DeWitt

Photo Caption: Athens County Dog Shelter

The Athens County dog warden has been officially reprimanded by the Athens County Commissioners over a missing deposit of $224 from his office.

The missing funds have led to an investigation by the Athens County Prosecutor's office and prompted the commissioners to hold a hearing with Dog Warden Jeff Koons on the matter.

Consequently, the commissioners last week developed a policy about how all deposits will be handled going forward in an attempt to avoid this type of situation in the future.

Koons reportedly paid back the $224 out of his own pocket, though it remains unknown and under investigation how the money ended up missing in the first place.

On Dec. 21, the commissioners wrote that their letter would serve as a "written reprimand" of Koons. They held a pre-disciplinary conference with Koons on Dec. 18.

"Your failure to make deposits from the operations in a timely manner is contrary to generally accepted practices," the commissioners wrote. "In the future, all deposits will be made according to the policy of the Board of Commissioners… Failure to adhere to this policy will result in more severe discipline up to termination."

The letter said that the dog shelter's deposit of Dec. 11-12 was short $224, a matter brought to the attention of the commissioners by Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn.

"During your hearing, you volunteered that the shortage is ultimately your responsibility as the Athens County dog warden," the letter said. "We acknowledge your payment on (Dec. 20). If the money is found to have been taken by someone who admits to the theft, and the money is recovered or an error has been made in the calculation of the deposit amount that results in an overpayment, it will be returned to you."

The letter was signed by Commissioners Larry Payne and Lenny Eliason.

Blackburn said Friday morning that he couldn't comment on an ongoing investigation but there is missing public money.

"We have interviews to do," he said. "Obviously, the money didn't get up and walk away. We're trying to figure out where it is."

Payne said Friday that other unresolved issues remain at the dog shelter, and the reprimand was issued to let the dog warden know that the commissioners have some major concerns. Those issues are in the prosecutor's hands at this point, he suggested.

"The issue is, what happened to the money?" Payne said. "Did somebody take the money? How did it get lost? So what we've tried to do is straighten up the procedure that the dog shelter uses."

He said previously one person would count the money and then maybe someone else would bring it in.

With the letter, the commissioners attached a new deposit policy that requires all deposits of funds to be made on the next business day with the exception of weekends and holidays, unless the total deposit is less than $50. If it is less than $50, it can be carried over an extra day, the new policy states.

"No funds are to be carried over beyond a second business day," the new policy states. "Friday and Saturday deposits shall be paid in to the Athens County Treasurer on Monday unless it's a holiday. Deposits after a holiday shall be made on the next business day."

Payne said this policy will tighten up the procedures, with all parties handling the money re-counting it to make sure that it's right.

"This way there's two different people signing off on how much money was there when it left," he said. "Hopefully, this will correct any kind of issue. Because you never know, money could have fallen out. Any number of different things could've happened."

Eliason said that previously the deposits at the dog shelter could take up to a week before they reached the Treasurer's Office.

"Before it could be four, five, six days, sometimes eight or nine days later, after business was transacted," he said. "There's no reason to have that money laying around like that."

Eliason said that while the matter is still under investigation with the prosecutor, the commissioners' role is more or less wrapped up.

"We issued the reprimand, and Jeff understood that because he's ultimately responsible for any shortages of money as the dog warden, he offered to replace that amount of money," Eliason said. "He did that, so we consider the matter closed at this point."

Koons was not available Friday afternoon for comment.

Money collected at the dog shelter typically includes dog license fees and fees for the adoption of dogs and puppies, which run $65 per adoption.


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