Walter Mitchell said he’s embracing his new temporary role as Luzerne County controller and hasn’t been shy about respectfully voicing his views to the administration.
“This is intellectually stimulating,” said Mitchell, a Bear Creek Village resident and 36-year owner of an insurance and financial estate planning firm.
One example of his approach occurred when Don Lasoski recently resigned as sheriff lieutenant after acknowledging he took $375 for a personal issue with plans to repay it before anyone noticed.
Mitchell sought and obtained a detailed explanation of the procedures for removing money from this fund and said Monday his office will be issuing suggested policy additions that could prevent another theft.
He didn’t stop there.
Mitchell said he has contacted county District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, urging her to pursue charges against Lasoski, who has paid back the money and resigned.
If charges are not filed, other employees with access to county funds will believe they can “get away with the same thing” by contending they were borrowing the money with plans to repay it, he said.
“As long as I’m here, we’re going to make sure that that message gets out that any violation of the public trust and any misuse of public funds is absolutely unacceptable and needs to be treated to the fullest extent of the law,” said Mitchell, who will serve in the post until the controller elected in November takes office Jan. 3.
He said he also worked with the administration to ensure the county divested its ownership of the sheriff canine handled by Lasoski. County officials say two experts said the aging dog had no financial value, and ownership has been transferred to Lasoski.
“My concern was as long as we own the dog, if the dog tore somebody’s face off, we were liable. I didn’t like our exposure as a county,” Mitchell said.
He plans to interview applicants this week for a vacant auditor position and is sorting through pending and promised audits to determine which should be completed or at least initiated during his four-month tenure.
Prior Controller Walter Griffith, who resigned, potentially as part of a plea agreement related to pending wiretap charges against him, told council earlier this year his office planned to complete six audits in 2013. Two were finished, and a third was wrapped up but not released. The remaining audits include reviews of fuel usage and purchasing department procedures and controls.
The department’s two employees are working on other audits not on this list, including one required by the state, Mitchell said.
He also has started a list of items that warrant correcting. His list includes a past practice that resulted in at least half of the employees receiving paychecks for time not yet worked. Employees are paid every two weeks, and he suggests withholding pay for the prospectively paid employees — with significant warning so they can prepare — during a month when there are three paydays. The entire workforce should be paid on the same schedule for time already worked, he said.
He also has suggested a committee to create a fresh, comprehensive policies and procedures manual and said he welcomes input from county taxpayers at 825-1629.
“It is for the taxpayers that I work, and only for them. This is not a Republican or Democratic position,” he said.