Palmertree should resign
Published 11:39 am Thursday, April 10, 2014
Round two of the civil case in Hinds County Chancery Court involving Warren County Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree gets underway Monday as a cloud of confusion wafts over the community. The people of Warren County are incredibly confused by 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 county officials have been advised by state auditors the spending would be a red flag on the next financial statement due the state every April 15. “It would be a disallowed expense.”
We opined after the civil trial that the mediation phase started the “let’s make a deal” part of this saga, which first hit the media early in 2011 with word that several years worth of audits in her office raised eyebrows with state auditors. Testimony in the civil trial showed the office had a “devil may care” attitude since the mid-1990s when it came to complying with state-set caps on clerk salaries.
At this time next year, candidates for county-level offices will go to her office to file paperwork to stand before Warren County voters for those jobs. Despite the short-term upheaval it might cause and the fact that state law allows an incumbent under indictment to run for re-election until convicted, Palmertree should do the honorable thing and resign her office while her criminal case is sorted out.
Whether she is guilty or not is far from us to decide, however when she took office she made a commitment to do what was right for the residents of Warren County. She has clearly lost the public trust and her credibility is shot. Like athletes who linger long after their career is over, so do politicians who have been irrevocably tainted by scandal. Do the honorable thing and step aside Palmertree.