Arviso files lawsuit against county over suspension
By Cindy Yurth
Dibé Nitsaa Bureau
DURANGO, Colo., June 21, 2012
The suit asks for a hearing, attorney's fees and the removal of interim treasurer Ryan Patterson until after Arviso has a chance to be heard.
In addition to the county as an entity, it names all three county supervisors, Apache County Manager Delwin Wengert and interim treasurer Ryan Patterson.
In a telephone interview from her office before the suit was filed, Arviso said she feels a little better about her 120-day suspension since her fellow Navajos on the county's board of supervisors, Jim Claw and Tom White, advocated for her to be allowed to be in her office and observe the process of rectifying the county's books.
"At least they let me back into my office," she said. "It seems OK, but they still have never let me tell my side of the story. That's all I'm asking."
The board voted May 24 to suspend Arviso for allegedly failing to apportion millions in investment assets among county-funded entities, allowing the entities - including several school districts and a fire district on the Navajo Nation - to budget money that wasn't really there.
Arviso's request for a hearing on the charges, to which she is entitled under state law, was denied on the grounds it was late.
The hearing request was supposed to be filed 10 days after the board initially voted 2-1 to suspend her on May 8. Under state law, Arviso had 10 days from that date to file her request. Arviso says she counted only business days and considered Fridays as holidays since the county offices are closed on Fridays, and filed her request May 24 - the last day she could, by her calculations - to give her attorney the maximum amount of time to prepare her defense.
Deputy County Attorney Joseph Young, meanwhile, did not exclude Fridays and issued a memo saying Arviso's request was late.
County Attorney Michael Whiting said his office stands by Young's calculation.
"The statute doesn't say anything about whether or not an office is closed," he said.
Arizona Statute 1-243, concerning the computation of time for legal purposes, reads "... the time in which an act is required to be done shall be computed by excluding the first day and including the last day, unless the last day is a holiday, in which case it is also excluded."
Whiting added the board had set a hearing date for Arviso, but she did not show up. She later issued a statement saying she had not yet requested the hearing and she was not prepared.
In a written statement released to local media, Arviso also challenges figures released by Whiting regarding the amount of the distribution errors, saying the Arizona Auditor General is still determining the actual amounts each county entity will have to pay back.
Arviso's statement says Whiting's figure of $6.5 million in undistributed losses is inflated by at least $1.9 million, and his attribution of $2.3 million in investments lost because of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy is almost certainly inaccurate because the bankruptcy is still being settled.
"Those figures (distributed by Whiting) did not come from the finance office and I have no idea where he got them," Arviso said.
In her statement, she calls the document "an example of the ongoing efforts by Supervisor John Lee and County Manager Delwin Wengert, aided by County Attorney Whiting, to discredit Apache County Treasurer Katherine D. Arviso and incite anger against her among her constituents."
Whiting says the figures did come from the finance department, and were presented to the board at a meeting. Interim Treasurer Ryan Patterson, former director of the finance department, was on vacation and unavailable for comment Tuesday.
According to Arviso, the school districts - which received the largest over-distribution of interest earnings from the county - were not as adversely impacted as Whiting maintains because their budgets are based on the number of students in the district and not the amount of money in the pot.
"Consequently, even if a school received interest earnings in excess of what they anticipated, they cannot inflate their budget or spend it," she wrote in her statement. "The only thing they could do is use it in the following budget year to lower taxes."
Arviso has stated previously she believes the allegations, initiated by Wengert, were timed with the start of her re-election campaign to discredit her and assure a victory by Arviso's Republican opponent, who also happens to be Lee's brother-in-law.
Arviso has repeatedly stated she was following previously established practices and the discrepancies in the various accounts were not caught because her office is understaffed.
The one good thing about her suspension, according to Arviso, is that the county has finally approved the hiring of consultants to help straighten out the mess.
"Ironically," she wrote in her statement, "the hiring of additional staff and experts has been my plea ever since I was elected treasurer in 2005. It has been impossible to have adequate internal controls or spend time writing up office procedures with only three employees in my office."
Now, says Arviso, "The Board of Supervisors, through their costly and undemocratic process, has come full circle in realizing hat they have never provided sufficient resources for me to do my job."
During Arviso's suspension, the Auditor General will verify the county's findings and set a date for the county to have the affected entities pay back the money they owe.