Officials from towns that contribute nearly one-third of Hancock County’s $6.9 million budget questioned Tuesday whether the county’s chief financial officer was fit to hold that position and professionally manage public money.
“Theodore Roosevelt said public service is a public trust,” said Durlin Lunt, Mount Desert town manager. “I just don’t have much trust.”
The Mount Desert Island League of Towns, whose board includes the region’s 10 town managers, had asked county commissioners to address their group after the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting revealed in May what federal officials called Philip Roy’s “misuse” of federal funds in another job.
The league’s board wrote the commissioners a letter on June 12 that stated, “As the payers of 41% of the Hancock County tax assessment, the League towns are quite concerned for the safety and proper accounting of those funds. To date we have received no reassurance, either directly or through the media, that would calm our concerns.”
Philip Roy, at the 2008 Republican convention. Photo Bangor Daily News.
The controversy dates back to 2009, when Roy was the treasurer of the state Republican Party and used its account without authority to buy himself a $15,000 camper. Subsequently, he repaid the Republican Party by using federal funds from the account of a workforce development agency where he served as the fiscal agent. Roy eventually paid the money back with interest after the unauthorized loan was discovered, resigned from both positions and was the subject of an FBI investigation. No charges have been filed.
Steven Joy, the chairman of the Hancock County commissioners, for whom Roy works, described the county’s financial oversight system, and explained how a bill sent to a county department is paid.
“The department sends to finance, the warrant is produced by the finance office’s deputy treasurer,” said Joy. “To make sure that it gets in the right accounts, it’s reviewed by the CFO, I then review the warrant, the treasurer signs the checks, the warrants go to the commissioners (for approval) afterwards.”
That description did not satisfy the town managers, who noted that under that system, commissioners would routinely approve of checks only after they had been written.
“We have not been reassured by the county commissioners that matters are well in hand,” said Dana Reed, chairman of the group and Bar Harbor’s town manager.
Hancock County’s elected treasurer Janice Eldridge, who attended the meeting, added that as far a she was concerned, she was just a “rubber stamp” in the county’s financial system.
“The other two commissioners do sign the warrants, but many times it’s three weeks beyond when I’ve signed the checks and they’ve been mailed. What happens if someone says ‘That’s an awfully big bill, why are we paying it?’”
The town managers also criticized the commissioners’ vetting of Roy for the job.
“As a lifelong town manager,” said Reed, “to be blunt, it was really surprising to me that someone could get a job managing taxpayer dollars when according to news reports, they had failed to act appropriately with other taxpayer dollars.”
Lunt, the Mount Desert town manager, said in a written statement that Roy’s hiring “Casts a very bad light on all public officials. It is bizarre that a public official could believe that it is ever appropriate for public money to be used as a source for loans for private purposes.”
The town managers discussed with Joy whether the county would work more efficiently if it were to have a professional administrator running county affairs.
“It may be appropriate for a charter commission to study the whole organizational structure because it certainly seems dysfunctional to me,” said Lunt.
Roy did not respond to requests for comment.
The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting in a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Hallowell. Email: email@example.com. Web: pinetreewatchdog.org