Stokes claims she’s victim of witch hunt by county executive, board chairman
By Brandi Makuski
Embattled Portage Co. Treasurer Stephanie Stokes has officially resigned.
According to Sheriff Mike Lukas, Stokes delivered her resignation to his office — a requirement of any elected Constitutional office — Thursday morning.
Stokes had initially announced her resignation in an open letter to the City Times on Tuesday, firing shots at both Portage Co. Executive Patty Dreier and Board Chairman Phil Idsvoog in the letter, saying both have gone out of their way to damage her reputation.
One claim involved Dreier allegedly telling county staff that Stokes has been fired last week — a claim Dreier emphatically refutes.
“That is absolutely incorrect,” Dreier said Tuesday afternoon.”That’s impossible; the [state] statute outlines the process in Chapter 17. The verified charges I submitted on Friday merely opens the door for the process of the Portage Co. Board of Supervisors, so that’s her due process in the civil side of things. The criminal side of things continue in whatever wheels are turning in Madison.”
Stokes also claims she’s been locked out of the courthouse and treasurer’s office. City and county employees are assigned electronic badges to gain entry to the building, and Stokes’ badge did not work when she arrived at building on Monday.
Dreier said it was an accident.
“There was a situation on Monday where a facilities employee, not being ordered to by anyone else, made an error and [locked Stokes out], but it was corrected,” Dreier said. “The facilities director sent her an apology note.”
Stokes sent another open letter to the City Times office on Wednesday, arguing Dreier’s explanation was not accurate.
“Maintenance staff said Patty Dreier had informed them not to allow me access as I had been fired effective Friday, September 23,” Stokes’ Sept. 28 letter readers in part. “When I approached the maintenance director for assistance, he told me that the initials ‘P.D.’ were next to the order to remove my access and the initials were time-stamped shortly after 6:00 AM on September 23, the same day she had me served with removal papers.”
Stokes’ office was first placed under investigation last fall for was the county described as “inconsistencies” in the office. The case was investigated by the Stevens Point Police Dept., and later forwarded to the Wis. Attorney General’s office in anticipation of criminal charges. What those criminal charges could be was not immediately known.
Very little about the investigation into the treasurer’s office has been made public until Sept. 23, when Dreier publicly released “verified charges” of a civil nature against Stokes. Drier charged Stokes with misconduct in public office, neglect of duty and violation of code of ethics for Portage Co. public officials.
Stokes is accused waiving interest on delinquent property taxes owed by some county residents, including former Deputy Treasurer Amy Townsend, who resigned last year under unknown terms.
Stokes is also accused of failing to send tax settlement payments to county municipalities and schools, which Dreier said cost the county more than $20,000 in interest.
Outside of her open letters, Stokes, who has held the office since 2004, has not responded to multiple requests for comment about the investigation and charges.
“[Dreier] has made it impossible for me to do my job,” Stokes’ letter reads in part. “Therefore, I have no choice but to resign, but do so under protest.”
In her letter, Stokes also alleges Idsvoog encouraged investigators working on the case to “just find something on her.”
“That conversation was over a year ago,” Idsvoog said. “I do recall that comment, but as far as I’m concerned it’s taken out of context. I believe I said something to the effect of, ‘If there’s something wrong over there you better find it’. Beyond that, I don’t recall.”
Idsvoog also said he and Finance Committee Chairman Jim Gifford were “insistent” that the county hire an outside law firm to investigate Stokes’ office specifically to avoid accusations of a witch hunt.
“We wanted to make sure we had absolutely nobody from county [government] involved in that investigation, so the investigation would be objective and there wouldn’t be any possible way of accusing anybody inside the county of having some bias on this matter,” he said.
Idsvoog also said he expects the county will appoint an interim treasurer during a special Executive/Operations Committee meeting scheduled for Sept. 30.
“It’s imperative we have a treasurer,” Dreier said. “We’re coming up on tax season so it’s vital we have someone in the office to ensure tax bills and whatnot are sent out in a timely manner.