Circuit Clerk Refusal to answer tough questions is alarming

Published 1:00 am Sunday, February 26, 2012

The sign painted on the front door on the second floor of the Warren County Courthouse reads: Circuit Clerk. It does not read “Shelly Ashley-Palmertree.” She oversees the operations in the office, but it is not hers; it’s the people’s office, much like the courthouse is the people’s courthouse.

As with most positions of authority, sometimes difficult questions must be asked. In September, State Auditor Stacy Pickering’s office ordered Ashley-Palmertree to repay $199,588. The number represents amounts she and her father, Larry Ashley, whom she succeeded in office in 2004, withdrew from criminal and civil court statutory fee accounts in excess of what state law allows, Pickering’s spokeswoman, Lisa Shoemaker, said in September.

Last week, Shoemaker said the amount is closer to $138,000, because part of the nearly $200,000 in question belonged to Larry Ashley’s administration, rather than his daughter’s.

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On Feb. 16, the circuit clerk was supposed to hand over to the county checks to cover the $138,000. A reporter from this newspaper went to the Circuit Clerk’s Office. What he encountered resembled the workings of a third-world, banana-republic dictatorship.

• Ashley-Palmertree spent more than two hours on “a conference call” with the Secretary of State’s Office. The call never happened, the Secretary of State’s Office said late that day.

• Our reporter was told by a staff member that, “You can sit there all day, she is not going to talk to you.” Presumably that employee had been directed by her boss.

• She has not returned repeated phone calls from reporters at the Post. Keep in mind that reporters for the Post and any other news-gathering operation in the United States are legally entitled to no more — and no less — than any other member of the public.

Does this sound like the workings of a competent elected official — elected by the public for the public?

Oh, she will talk — when she is running for re-election. But when tough necessary questions were to be asked, and she did not have to worry about her job for the next almost four years, she hid in a corner on a fake phone call while the staff made excuses.

She delivered the checks to Warren County Administrator John Smith, but eluded answering any questions about the handover of money. Questions being asked by the public by whom she is employed. Disgraceful.

The people of Warren County deserve better. They deserve better than a circuit clerk who will make up a conference call to avoid speaking to a reporter. They deserve better than someone who happily will answer questions — when her job is at stake in an election year — only to return to a dictatorial style after the ballots are counted. They deserve better than a clerk with obviously questionable practices in the office’s accounting procedures.

This is not a dictatorship. The sign on the door reads Circuit Clerk, not Shelly Ashley-Palmertree. After all, it’s the people’s office.

Yes, Ashley-Palmertree can do better. If not, the voters certainly can and should the very next time her job is at stake.