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Commissioners question sheriff’s use of discretionary fund

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | May 28, 2021


CHARLES TOWN — The Jefferson County Commission has questioned Sheriff Tom Hansen’s use of discretionary funding in his office for items they would not likely have approved.

Earlier this month, Hansen’s office hosted a Cruiser Competition event, welcoming multiple police jurisdictions to Jefferson County to attempt to earn bragging rights for their vehicles. Expenses for the event were incurred and paid out to three vendors out of the sheriff’s Concealed Carry Permit discretionary fund.

Commissioner Jane Tabb brought up the expenditures during the approval of manual checks portion of the commission meeting. Hansen had written the checks to pay the three vendors from an account on which he is the only signatory. Tabb confirmed that although the commission “technically has to approve all manual checks,” the checkbook for the account is maintained in the sheriff’s office.

“This is a discretionary fund,” Tabb said, when asked whether the JCC had control over approving spending out of the account. “However, most past sheriffs have used it for equipment, etcetera. It is hard to see this expenditure when he has asked for raises, more staffing and a truck for himself.”

Commissioner Tricia Jackson commented this week, regarding going through proper channels.

“There is a process that applies to all county officers, elected included, that even though the funds are allocated to their offices, they still have to submit a purchase requisition to go through the proper channels for spending,” she said.

Hansen contends he used the funds for a Law Enforcement Community event, something it is entirely within his purview to do.

“This allowed easier and speedier payments to the vendors,” Hansen said.

County Finance Director Michelle Gordon concurred with Tabb during Thursday’s meeting, that the expenditures were not something that would likely have been approved by the commission. She referenced that the funds would not be approved without prior hospitality form completion.

“No hospitality requests were submitted to the commission,” Gordon said. “This is not something that would typically be approved.”

Gordon went on to explain that the account is in the sheriff’s office, not the commission’s.

“We found out about it the same way you did,” Gordon told commissioners, “after the fact.”

Hansen defended his actions, saying he did not fill out hospitality forms, because this is a discretionary fund available solely to his office.

“There were not budgetary funds,” Hansen said. “They were not taxpayer funds.”

According to the West Virginia State Code, Sec. 61-7-4 (10)©, “Any funds deposited in this concealed weapon license administration fund are to be expended by the sheriff to pay for the costs associated with issuing concealed weapons license. Any surplus in the fun on hand at the end of each fiscal year may be expended for other law-enforcement purposes or operating needs of the sheriff’s office, as the sheriff may consider appropriate.”

Hansen, who organized the Cruiser Competition as a public outreach event, as well as a morale booster for law enforcement officers, believes his use of these discretionary funds was appropriate, regardless of whether the JCC thinks the use was appropriate and regardless of any of his budgetary requests for funds allocated through the JCC’s budget process. The use of funds in an account completely discretionary to the sheriff are not something he felt had to be approved by another elected official.

The JCC agreed that no action could be taken regarding the vendors and that they needed to be paid; however, they came to a consensus to send a “strongly worded letter” to the sheriff about how he handled the situation.