By Brandi Makuski
Portage Co. Executive Patty Dreier announced on Friday she’s levied civil charges against County Treasurer Stephanie Stokes.
In a new release sent shortly before the end of business of Sept. 23, Dreier said she filed charges of misconduct in public office, neglect of duty and violation of code of ethics for Portage Co. public officials.
“Portage County can no longer wait for the Wisconsin Department of Justice to finish their review of this case,” Dreier wrote. “Too much is at stake to wait any longer.”
Dreier is asking the Portage County Board of Supervisors to remove Stokes, who was first elected in 2004 from office. Under state law, the county treasurer can be removed for cause with a two-third majority vote of the county board.
Stokes and her office have been under investigation since at least last fall following the resignation of Deputy Treasurer Amy Townsend. According to county officials, a routine 2013 audit of several departments by independent accounting firm Baker Tilly uncovered inconsistencies inside the treasurer’s office. After an internal investigation, the case was referred to the Stevens Point Police Dept., then last November to the DOJ.
Stokes has proclaimed her innocence in an open letter, saying her office is not responsible for the inconsistencies. Requests for comment on the civil charges from Stokes have not been answered.
According to documents released by Dreier’s office, the Portage Co. Finance Committee has records dating back to 2005 showing Stokes gave breaks on interest for some residents who were behind on property taxes, even though the county had no written policy allowing such breaks.
Among those who were granted leniency, according to records from Dreier’s office, were Amy Townsend, Stokes’ former deputy treasurer, who was allowed to avoid interest on Townsend’s delinquent taxes.
According to county records, Stokes falsified official county tax records on at least one occasion to hide the violation, which according to Dreier constitutes felony misconduct in office.
In an interview on Saturday morning, Dreier said the timing of the news release was not to frustrate constituents over the weekend, but it was the soonest she had been able to release the information publicly.
“The public had a right to know, and we haven’t been able to be transparent for a long time,” Dreier said Saturday. “This is about transparency in local government.”
Dreier said she consulted with an outside law firm, von Breisen & Roper prior to releasing the documents on Friday. The county hired the law firm in January.
See the document here: exhibit-a-verified-charges-against-stephanie-stokes-sep-23-2016
*This story is ongoing.