Circuit Clerk mess is far from over

Published 10:23am Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The final chapter of Warren County Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree remains to be written despite her removal from office yesterday by the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

The board voted unanimously to declare the office, held by Palmertree since 2004, vacant over school registration documents and utility bills obtained by investigators with the Office of the State Auditor. They contend the documents prove the three-term clerk had declared herself a Madison County resident last summer.

The move Monday doesn’t clear up the broiling-hot mess that is the circuit clerk’s office these days.

Three-term clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree was indicted in January — the second such impugning of her job performance by a grand jury since August — on three felony counts of embezzlement.

Meanwhile, a civil case that she started on her own last March against State Auditor Stacey Pickering, Warren County and the company that had insured her heads back to the courtroom after mediation talks broke down without a deal, but with renewed scrutiny about how she’s paying her attorney.

Supervisors voted to file an injunction in the case before the next round of testimony to ask the clerk to stop paying attorneys and witnesses out of her fee account. Hinds Chancellor Dewayne Thomas had ordered Palmertree to report her office’s monthly financial activity monthly to the court — a process that board attorney Marcie Southerland said drew the attention of Pickering’s office, which had met with county officials about a week before the mediation.

Southerland said the activity would be improper because it involves paying for legal defense outside the bounds of the clerk’s office’s normal, everyday business.

“It appears she is paying her attorneys out of her fee account,” Southerland said, adding “it would be a disallowed expense.”

The two separate trials are likely to continue and the conclusion is far from decided. One thing is certain though and that for the first time in 27 years, someone not named Ashley heads the Warren County Circuit Clerk’s Office.

Greg Peltz, 66, a retired retail manager, was the choice of four-fifths of the Board of Supervisors to head the office on an interim basis. Peltz, a onetime district manager with Radio Shack, will hold the office until the county sets a special election date, likely to be Nov. 3 with other general election races. Qualifying would begin when the date is set and end 60 days before the election, as per state law on vacancies in county offices.

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