Clerk addresses investigation

Dear Editor:

I am Kellie Hendricks Rhoades, Union County clerk of court and comptroller. This letter addresses the State Attorney’s investigation of our county coordinator. Specifically, I explain both the need for the referral to the State Attorney’s office and allegations that I did not provide all relevant documents for the investigation.

By law, the clerk of court also serves as the comptroller and auditor of the county’s tax dollars. The comptroller’s responsibilities include ensuring the taxpayers’ money is both collected and disbursed as required by policy and statutes. On Sept. 20, 2023, the Union County BOCC and I received a complaint that the Union County coordinator built a home without a permit. As the auditor and custodian of county funds, I investigated the complaint and found that the required county permitting fees totaling $1,457.61 had not been paid by the coordinator. I further audited the files in my custody and found several anomalies regarding his permit, or lack thereof. I first addressed the matter privately with the county attorney, who took no action. The matter was brought to the Union County Board of County Commissioners for two meetings. No action was taken, except to request referring the matter to the Office of Inspector General (OIG). 

I contacted the OIG. That office explained it has no jurisdiction over county matters because we are not a state agency. The IG’s office provided four referral options: The Commission on Ethics (COE), the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), our local State Attorney or FDLE. After reviewing the required filings, the county coordinator is not an elected position and it did not appear that the COE had jurisdiction. The DBPR is not appropriate because it has jurisdiction over contractors’ licenses and private business matters, not actions as a county employee or the alleged misuse of a public position for personal gain. As the clerk and comptroller, I am not concerned with the county coordinator’s contractor’s license or private business practices. The allegations of a misuse of public funds for the employee’s personal gain are most appropriately directed to the local state attorney. 

As Union County’s comptroller, I referred the financial irregularities to the State Attorney’s Office as recommended by the Office of Inspector General. The state attorney investigated the matter as required by law, and will take action as he believes appropriate.  

I note that State Attorney Brian Kramer was misquoted during the meeting on Feb. 5, 2024. Readers were led to believe that the clerk was the only party who provided documents for the investigation. State attorney’s subpoenas were served on the clerk and the Building Department, as well as on others with relevant information. The Clerk’s Office responded to the subpoenas with all public records in its possession relating to the matter, including records provided by the Building Department. Other county departments are responsible for providing records requested by the state attorney in their possession, including consulting with the IT Department if necessary. Of course, the county coordinator has every right to provide any records favorable to him to the investigative agency.  

Thank you for allowing me to address this matter of public concern.  

Kellie Hendricks Rhoades, Union County Clerk of Court and Comptroller