TRAVERSE CITY — Mudslinging over Grand Traverse County’s finances continues to expose expensive oversights and widening rifts between former and current county officials.
The latest volley came from former county finance Director Jody Lundquist, who this week claimed that officials underbilled two neighboring counties an estimated $230,000 in shared 86th District Court pension costs. She said Grand Traverse County “absorbed” those costs since 2014.
An additional $89,000 would be under-billed this year if not corrected, she said.
“One of my last actions was to remind administration and finance staff that this was an open item that needed to be corrected and addressed with corrected invoices, with some sort of formal memorandum explaining the issue for 2017,” she said.
Lundquist, who resigned in November, said the issue predated her tenure. She revealed it after county Commissioner Cheryl Gore Follette recently brought up a $140,000 health insurance oversight and said it occurred under Lundquist’s watch — an accusation Lundquist claimed is inaccurate.
The back-and-forth continued weeks of tense exchanges between former and current officials about county expenses.
Commission Chairwoman Carol Crawford, under fire for her travel costs, raised pointed questions about former Administrator Tom Menzel’s meal expenses. Gore Follette, for her part, focused on about $900,000 in contractual service expenses racked up under Menzel, who argued employee vacancies, among other reasons, made them necessary.
The county has an obvious need for more financial oversight, Gore Follette said.
“I feel like we’re at the start on this,” she said.
Commissioners briefly discussed conducting a forensic audit to uncover other potential issues, but generally agreed to wait until Dean Bott retakes the finance director position he held before Lundquist took over in 2016.
Lundquist this year noticed the district court’s expenditures outpaced its income. A closer look showed Antrim and Leelanau counties, which share the district court’s costs, hadn’t paid for their unfunded pension debts, she said. She traced the cause to an accounting change in 2014.
“We just simply haven’t been billing them for that total,” she said.
Officials in Antrim and Leelanau counties apparently budgeted for their share, but it’s unclear if their officials mentioned their bills came in smaller than anticipated.
Leelanau County Administrator Chet Janik said he first learned about the issue this week. He said Grand Traverse County officials hadn’t yet reached out to him about the issue. Antrim County Administrator Peter Garwood didn’t return a call for comment.
District Court Administrator Carol Stocking said she also learned about the issue this week. She directed questions to the county’s finance department.
Interim finance Director Cheryl Wolf didn’t return calls for comment. Bott acknowledged the accounting change, but said he didn’t know about the issue until this week. He said he couldn’t comment on it until he looked more closely at financial records when he takes over the department in January.
“(Administrators) have asked for me to look at that,” he said.
Gore Follette said the pension under-billing “absolutely” raised concerns. She said it added to her questions about past contractual service costs and $142,000 in excess health insurance payments, which she detailed at a recent meeting.
Her comments about the excess payments came one day after Boomerang Catapult, LLC, representatives announced Lundquist would join the venture capital firm as its chief financial officer.
Administrator Vicki Uppal called a Record-Eagle reporter following the meeting to request that Lundquist’s name not be included in a story. The meeting was televised and open to the public, and Gore Follette mentioned Lundquist by name.
Gore Follette said she did so to share the facts.
“It wasn’t intended as an attack,” she said.
Lundquist previously disputed Gore Follette’s account. She said the pension under-billing needed to be addressed.
“It’s one of a number of issues that were identified and we were actively seeking to resolve,” she said.