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Supervisors: Clayton County auditor's performance lagging; he disputes claim

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ELKADER (TH Media) -

By Ben Jacobson
ben.jacobson@thmedia.com


Clayton County leaders say Auditor Dennis Freitag hasn’t kept regular office hours in months, leaving more than 1,600 emails unanswered and job duties, including the publication of meeting minutes, unfulfilled.

County supervisors have set a special meeting later this month during which Freitag’s duties will be discussed. If Freitag — an elected official — does not attend the meeting, he could be removed from office, according to supervisors.

But Freitag says he is “doing the best he can with the resources (he’s) been given,” as he cares for his ailing wife, who requires constant supervision. He said he is underpaid, his department is understaffed and supervisors have undermined him for years.

“I feel like I’m put in a corner with my hands tied behind my back,” Freitag said.

During a meeting Monday, county supervisors said they have not heard from Freitag since June 30 — the end of fiscal year 2015. During his absence, checks have not been deposited, emails have piled up and expense reports have not been filed, they said.

Many of Freitag’s job duties can be performed by his deputies or the temporary head deputy that was hired at his request. But Freitag has some needed documentation and information at home, where his staff can’t access it, according to supervisors.

“The auditor is not communicating with his staff,” Supervisor Ron McCartney said Monday. “He had 1,645 emails prior to Sept. 21 that had not been opened. We finally got access to them, but several files are on his personal computer at home that have not been made accessible to other office personnel.”

Larry Gibbs, vice chairman of the supervisors, said the fiscal year 2015 budget still has not been closed out more than three months into fiscal year 2016.

“We’re almost ready to go into the (fiscal year) 17 budget, and we don’t even know where we ended on ’15,” Gibbs said after the meeting.

Supervisors also are frustrated that Freitag — who still draws a full salary from the county — has been working part time at a grocery store during his absence.
 

“The public is very disappointed. I’ve received many calls from people,” Gibbs said. “He hasn’t showed up for his job for which taxpayers are paying him. But he’s taken on a part-time job at a local grocery store, and he hasn’t missed a day.”

Freitag said he has cared for his wife, Pam, who is receiving hospice care for a terminal lung disease. Though he tries to keep up on work from home, most of his time is spent caring for her, he said.

Freitag said he had to pick up shifts at the grocery store because his county salary — $50,342 in fiscal year 2015 — isn’t sufficient to cover his family’s needs. He depends on volunteer help from neighbors and friends to care for his wife whenever he leaves the house.

“Every day is a gift ... to be able to be with her,” Freitag said. “But this is kind of a hell on earth too kind of thing, trying to pay bills and still work. I’m trying to make the best decisions I can make.”

Freitag was first elected nearly 40 years ago. He said supervisors have “harassed” him for years and previously attempted to get him to resign. They also limited the number of employees in his office and placed a 90-day, $14,000 cap on the chief deputy hired in his absence, Freitag said.

Freitag acknowledged that he has not had time to check his emails, but he said concerns over the budget are overblown. The filing deadline isn’t until December and there isn’t a penalty for missing it, he said.

Supervisors could have accommodated his situation better by moving meetings to Tuesdays or Thursdays, the only days on which Freitag does not have to take his wife for dialysis treatments in West Union, he said.

But Gibbs said board members have helped as much as they can.

“We understand he has problems, family problems, and we accommodated him by hiring an outside person to come in,” Gibbs said. “We are trying everything we can to accommodate him, but he hasn’t been cooperative with us.”

Freitag said he will attend the special meeting, which is set for Oct. 26. He said he doesn’t really have a choice.

“I’m not very happy the way they’re treating me,” Freitag said. “It seems like they’re kicking me (when I’m) down.”

TH Media correspondent Pat McTaggart contributed.

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