Supervisors get vets audit update

County attorney concludes mistakes made, but nothing malicious

Chickasaw County Attorney Jennifer Schwickerath said Monday that although there were several mistakes made related to the hiring of a veterans affairs commissioner last spring, there was little damage done and no malicious intent. 

Schwickerath addressed a joint meeting between the Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors and the Veterans Affairs Commission on Monday, and presented an update on the county attorney’s investigation into veteran’s issues brought forward by the recent state re-audit.

“I’ve had an opportunity to do some document review, also review some statements and do some personal interviews,” said Schwickerath. “There were some mistakes that were made. I’m sure this is not a surprise to anyone.”

The state re-audit brought into question the county’s hiring of Rick Holthaus as commissioner last spring without following proper procedures, it questioned the granting of a key to Holthaus before he was officially hired, and it questioned the manner in which Holthaus was paid for two days of work. Holthaus worked a Friday and a Monday, then decided to resign. He has said that he wasn’t interested in the position, but others had sought him out and asked him to fill in, because the position had been open for quite some time.

“First, we didn’t follow the appropriate process to hire a new director or administrator back in March of 2017,” Schwickerath said Monday. “The committee did the interviewing, they had a recommendation and that recommendation should have gone to the VA commission at a meeting to be approved. That didn’t happen. The position was offered without that. So that was a mistake.” 

Schwickerath added that the subsequent the hiring of Lindsey Zenner as veteran’s affairs director last summer was handled properly.

“I will say, we have a new director, and the process for the new director was done correctly,” Schwickerath said. “So hopefully that’s one of those things that we’ve learned from. Hopefully Lindsey will be here a long time, but there might be sometime in the future where we’re faced with this again, so hopefully we have people around who remember the process and make sure that it’s followed.”

Schwickerath also said that Holthaus shouldn’t have been given access to the VA office before he was officially employed.

“That was also a mistake,” she said. “But there was a representation made to Mr. Holthaus that he had been hired.”

Schwickerath added that thanks in part to concerned citizens speaking up, there was no damage caused by the mistake, and it doesn’t appear that there is any liability for the county.

“The key was returned promptly, before there was any liability,” she said. “It doesn’t not appear that he had access to any confidential or HIPPA-related information. The computer system has passwords that he did not have.”

Schwickerath also said that some confidential information was released through a Freedom of Information Act request, but those who requested the information and those who handled the information acted diligently, so as not to expose the county to any legal liability. 

“These mistakes were essentially due to a lack of communication,” she added.  “I think everyone is aware that we are going to be very cautious going forward.”


See the complete article in Thursday's Reporter or Friday's Tribune.

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