By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Aug. 12 — Commonwealth Attorney Ken Alger confirmed last week that Virginia State Police investigators are looking into the misappropriation of county funds by former Page County Finance Director Dennis Click.
A number of details remain unclear as the case is still under investigation — such as when the alleged actions actually took place, the exact amount taken, when the county discovered it, and when the county took action.
Page Valley News obtained a copy of a Reimbursement Agreement drawn up by County Attorney Nathan Miller between Click and the County. The June 2 document confirms what PVN has been told by several sources — that Click allegedly took the public funds to pay for furthering his education without the County’s knowledge or approval.
“Employer has a well-established policy that any certification, credits, educational courses which an Employee desires to take must be pre-approved by the Employer in order for the course to be paid for by the Employer,” the agreement states.
“Employee entered into an educational program with Chardon State College to obtain an advanced degree. In violation of Employer’s policy, the expenses of those courses, materials and fees for the referenced educational program were billed to the Employer without Employer’s knowledge or pre-approval,” the document continues. “Employee agrees to reimburse Employer for all expenses, fees and costs in the amount of [$13,268.61] which were billed to the Employer on behalf of the Employee in violation of Employer’s policies.”
Although discrepancies were discovered in the county’s monthly financial statements in May, according to several sources, Click’s employment as the county’s finance director was not terminated until Monday, July 27.
Click had reportedly been put on leave from July 22-25 because of COVID-19 concerns and possible exposure to the virus. For a period of about seven weeks prior to that, the county continued work with Click to resolve the issue internally.
Several sources told PVN that the funds were taken from county coffers over a period of up to two years and the total could be closer to $20,000, but neither has been confirmed as the investigation continues.
Claims of the alleged “embezzlement” became public after Sheriff Chad Cubbage invoked the word at least four times during his appearance at the Page County Board of Supervisors’ Aug. 4 work session.
During last week’s meeting, as the sheriff was being aggressively questioned about the management of his own department’s budget, Cubbage stated, “How can you sit there and accuse me of mismanagement [of public funds] when there are people embezzling money in county government? That’s robbing the citizens of the county, and they were allowed to [continue] work[ing] here for weeks.”
County Administrator Amity Moler responded during the meeting by saying, “That person has been terminated. They no longer work here.”
Two days after walking out of his meeting with the board of supervisors, Sheriff Cubbage said he made those comments in open session because “I think the citizens of Page County deserve to know if there is criminal activity within the county government. He should have been put on administrative leave.”
When Click was contacted at his home last week by PVN and asked if he wanted to respond to the allegations, he simply said, “Not at the moment.” When given a second chance to explain his side of the story, Click responded, “No thank you.”
Several sources have told PVN that county staff respected Click’s competence and was endeared by his congenial nature. That tone launched an effort to retain Click, despite his infractions being made aware to county staff and each member of the board of supervisors.
As further testament to that, the June 2 agreement was drawn up by the county attorney eight weeks before Click’s termination as county finance director, and the county made an effort to seek repayment without the involvement of law enforcement.
“Employee agrees to reimburse Employer the sum of [$13,268.61] at 4 percent interest in 42 monthly payments of [$339.02] commencing on the first day of July 2020,” the reimbursement agreement reads.
Further payments were laid out in an amortization schedule attached to the agreement. The final payment was set to be made on Dec. 1, 2023.
Both the supervisors and county staff had reason to be pleased with Click’s performance prior to the allegations of misappropriated funds. In 2018, Page County earned its first of two consecutive Certificate(s) of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The award presented by the Government Finance Officers Association of the U.S. and Canada is considered “the highest form of recognition in government accounting and financial reporting,” according to a press release issued by the organization.
County auditors suggested applying for the award and Page County was recognized among the top counties with a population between 10,000 and 24,999 across the country. In total, about 18 percent of the more than 3,000 counties across the U.S. were recognized. Page County was rated among the top 3 percent in its population bracket, as well as being the smallest locality in the Shenandoah Valley — and the third-smallest in Virginia — to be recognized with the financial reporting award.
When Page County received the first award in 2018, Click told the Page News and Courier: “It really enshrines our goals, to go beyond the minimum requirements of generally accepted accounting principles and to prepare comprehensive annual financial reports that evidence our spirit of transparency and full disclosure. I believe this empowers the public to be fully equipped with all the tools to evaluate both our funding sources and our funding uses.”
In its press release announcing the award, the Government Finance Officers Association of the U.S. and Canada also stated that the awards are judged each year by “an impartial panel to meet the high standards of the program, which includes demonstrating a constructive spirit of full disclosure.”
At least two independent auditors are now reviewing the county’s finances, and Virginia State Police investigators have questioned Click. It is unclear at this time when, or if, charges will be filed by the Commonwealth’s Attorney. If that happens, the case will be presented before a grand jury in Page County Circuit Court to seek a formal indictment before going to trial.
When contacted Wednesday afternoon for comment about the allegations against the county’s former finance director and the ongoing investigation, board chairman Morgan Phenix said, “I really can’t because the process is ongoing. It’s a sad situation, but we have operated with extreme caution because it is still in the process.”
Soon after this article was published on Aug. 12, Page County Administrator Amity Moler answered PVN’s request for comment by stating: “It is a personnel issue and part of an ongoing investigation, therefore, I cannot comment at this time.”
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