Thursday, April 29, 2021

Sumpter treasurer now denies claiming ‘missing funds’

The author of a political letter to the editor published in a Belleville newspaper remains in question despite the best efforts of Sumpter Township attorney Rob Young.

The matter was referred to Young by the township board of trustees for investigation following the Aug. 28, 2020 publication of the letter which alleged financial mismanagement in the township. 

Young told the board members during the April 13 meeting that he had interviewed every department head and spoken extensively with the financial director regarding  the claims. 

“There is zero point zero chance there is or was any money missing ,” he said. “I'll say it again, there is zero point zero chance there are any problems. This was all made up, there is no missing money.”

The published letter was signed by then candidate for Township Treasurer Jim Clark who repeatedly denied writing the letter during the meeting.

“I did not write that letter,” he stated adamantly. 

Young said that during his interview with Clark, the treasurer said he had received information about missing funds from his predecessor in the treasurer's office, Ken Bednark. He said Bednark told him there were unpaid taxes and unpaid water monies going uncollected. Young said that Bednark, however, absolutely denied providing that information to Clark during a subsequent interview. “He said they never had that conversation,” Young reported. Bednark has reportedly demanded a formal apology from Clark regarding his statements.

Trustee Matt Oddy thanked Young for his extensive work in attempting to discover who wrote the letter. He noted that this was an issue of great importance to him as it impacted the reputation of the entire community.

“Now it's an issue of who is telling the truth. Bednark now says he never told you (Clark) that there were missing funds. You were hoodwinked,” he told Clark. “There is a new allegation that Bednark actually wrote the letter,” Oddy said.  

“We have to have our reputation. The paper distributed this claim of financial disparity as fact,” he added. “The paper has an obligation to print the truth. This paper doesn't verify, (she) just prints. The community and the residents are being disparaged. You think anyone at the paper thought for a minute there were millions missing? They did not, but they printed it to see what kind of chaos they could cause.” 

The letter, now disavowed by Clark, alleged that there were millions of dollars missing from the township including $400,000 missing from the water department and money missing from the office of Township Clerk Esther Hurst, along with an allegation that her office had torn up and mishandled ballots, and false claims of missing funds from other township departments.

Trustee Peggy Morgan attempted to defend the publication of the letter commenting that “everyone on the board has used the paper. If you send in a letter it gets printed. That's on you,” she said. “When you're elected if somebody says something about you, there's nothing you can do,” she said.

Trustee Tim Rush strongly disagreed noting that he had come to a significant financial settlement with the publication following false statements printed about him.

Young expressed his disgust with the issue and criticized the local publication and the impact of the falsehoods on the reputation of the township.

“I've had it up to here with this. People around make up this stuff and I am not going to put up with it. I may not prevail in court, but I will try. This does damage to people and I don't know anybody in the community who would not be outraged by these lies.”

Editor's note: Neither Bednark or Clark returned calls seeking comment for this story.