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Pawnee Commission raises budget concerns with clerk
Pawnee County courthouse
Pawnee County courthouse

Following their Oct. 5 decision to conditionally suspend the salary of Pawnee County Clerk/Elections Officer Ruth Searight, effective Oct. 19, Pawnee County Commissioners voted Monday to table any action on the clerk’s salary until their next regular meeting, scheduled for Oct. 19.
The suspension of pay was to go into effect unless Searight appeared before the board at Monday’s meeting. Searight, who is not running for reelection, was not present at that meeting.
According to a Sept. 24 letter issued to Searight by Pawnee County Attorney Doug McNett, the clerk had been requested to respond to commissioners’ concerns over issues pertaining to election officer duties, the county clerk’s budget and general duties of the clerk’s office.
McNett said to date, Searight has not responded to any of the board’s questions. Searight also did not respond to requests from the Great Bend Tribune for comment.
Questions addressed to Searight in the letter under commissioners’ three areas of concern include the following:

• Election officer duties
1. Why was the entirety of the 2020 election budget exhausted more than two months prior to the general election?
2. How much was the election software company paid for its services during the two (2) proceeding elections (2016 and 2018 elections years)?
3. Will there be additional election software expenses for the 2020 general election? If so, how much?
4. What is your estimate for the remaining anticipated expenses for the general election?
Please itemize the anticipated expenses by category.
5. Do you have a mitigation strategy to reduce said anticipated expense?
6. You mentioned to the Board your office had requested $25,000 from the Sectary of State to offset COVID related election expenses. Was your request approved? If so, for how much? When do you anticipate receiving said reimbursement?

• County clerk’s budget
1. At this same point during the 2019 year, the clerk had expended approximately 60% of its budget. Why has the county clerk’s office spent in excess of 80% of its 2020 Budget with more than 25% of the fiscal year remaining?
2. Does the clerk have a mitigation strategy to remain within budget for the remainder of the 2020 fiscal year? If so, what is it?
3. Why is the clerk’s contractual account over budget?

• General duties of the clerk’s office
1. It is the duty of the county clerk to maintain the general ledger. Why are you wanting to contract accounting firm to do the general ledger for the rest of the year when that is a duty for your office to perform?
2. Why did you not discuss the issues related to maintaining the general ledger prior to seeking outside assistance?
3. Besides Pam Ptacek, have you inquired retaining any other outside accounting services? If so, who and when?
4. Was there a contract for the work performed by Pam Ptacek? If not, what are the general terms of your agreement with Ms. Ptacek?
5. What financial records of Pawnee County were given to Pam Ptacek? What was the method of delivery of said documents?
6. Is the clerk’s office capable of completing its required duties with its current staffing level?
7. Are you willing to allow the Pawnee County Treasure Tami Keenan to train your current staff to maintain the general ledger?
8. Not including temporary election staff, how many part-time staff does the clerk’s office intend to utilize for the remainder of the 2020 fiscal year?