Tempers flare during county Children and Youth discussion

LEWISTOWN – Tempers erupted Thursday in the ongoing saga between a group of area residents and Mifflin County Children and Youth Services regarding procedural matters and a question as to what happened to a $500 check that was reimbursed to the department’s “sugar bowl fund.”

A question arose at the Mifflin County Commissioners business meeting about $500 that was earmarked for a child in foster care to be used to help defray expenses for a mission trip, according to CYS Administrator Mackenzie Seiler. However, the trip didn’t occur because the child did not receive a passport in time. The money, in the form of cash, was sent back to the department by the church sponsoring the trip and placed in the department’s safe.

Seiler said the individual who placed the funds in the safe didn’t notify her immediately. She added that elected auditor Helen Kirk audited and signed off on it and “then wanted copies for her friends. We had to find the money and there it was, the note and $500 in cash and it was re-deposited.”

Seiler said since the incident, procedures have been changed because the department’s sugar bowl committee’s treasurer is a volunteer and not always available.

“We’ve now made a change that deposits can be made by our fiscal people within Children and Youth to get to the bank on a more timely basis,” Seiler added.

The sugar bowl fund consists of dollars contributed by jurors who don’t wish to be paid, as well as donations from several area organizations that are allocated by a separate committee for children in the system to use for things not allocated in the department’s budget.

During the meeting, one local resident asked why money donated to CYS through the sugar bowl fund isn’t public knowledge. County Solicitor Patti Gardner explained that nothing in the Right to Know Law was denied, however, portions of the information have to be redacted due to confidentiality laws. Individuals are allowed to come to the courthouse and get the information included in the county’s software for a fee, which Gardner said the resident questioning the policy did not pay.

“I have had enough of these accusations,” Seiler said after repeated questions. “An employee received the funding, signed it and gave it to fiscal staff and put it in the safe. I resent you saying my staff has done anything fiscally wrong. I’ve had enough of this.”

Commission Chairman Mark Sunderland then intervened and addressed Kirk directly.

“Helen, I’m disappointed that you’re planting seeds of deceit that are just not true,” Sunderland said. “If it was true, the big auditors would catch it. We have never gotten an audit report that includes any improprieties. You’re here to audit books and balance accounts. We’re all here to serve. We have a hard job to do here. We have to manage the prison, Children and Youth, the Planning Commission, Veterans Affairs and Assessment. I don’t appreciate people planting seeds that we’re crooked. We don’t have agendas. We don’t run to self-serve. We’re here to do the best job we can at the time.”

Kirk responded by saying it is her job to audit all departments.

“The request was vague and it was already audited,” Gardner responded.

Seiler then added, “I have been in this position for seven years and I take it very seriously. It’s very important to me. I come here every two weeks and have to sit here and take your personal attacks because you know there are things I can’t talk about. We all know why you’re sitting here today. You want me fired. That will not detract me. I’m very disappointed that as citizens of Mifflin County, what can you do to help? Put your energies into something positive to try to make a positive impact on the county.”

Local resident Sherry Bollinger said she attends the meetings to educate herself.

“I’ve done investigations,” she noted. “I’m trying to do positive things. I know it’s not personal. We’re trying to educate the community as to their rights. We don’t care if somebody is fired. We want policies to be followed. I like things to be professional. We need to educate the community. I, for one, didn’t know what was going on here until I got involved with a family member.”

Sunderland again came to the defense of CYS.

“I think I’ve said this 100 times and it’s starting to get redundant,” he said. “There was an investigation done. A corrective plan has been put in place and being monitored by DPW (Department of Public Welfare). There isn’t one single office in this county that is perfect. All the elected officials can do is try their best to bring staff up to speed. We allowed the investigation (of CYS) to proceed. If something was found I have no problem with letting heads roll. We have seen none of that. It bothers me that there are elected officials going out on the street planting seeds of deceit.”