Jackie Terwilleger: Hamilton Township fiscal officer resigns amid investigation

HAMILTON TWP., Ohio – Long-time Hamilton Township fiscal officer Jackie Terwilleger resigned Friday after she became the center of an investigation into mismanaged funds.

The Warren County prosecutor told WCPO he is investigating claims of mismanaged money, falsified checks and unauthorized payments.

The township could be facing a multimillion-dollar deficit.

Audits of the township's finances for 2002-03 , 2004-05, 2006-07 and 2008-09 , posted here, cite several questionable financial practices and multiple examples of improper bookkeeping. They also criticize lack of control and oversight by the township.

Hamilton Township's financial situation has gotten so bad that Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said his office is completing the township audits for 2010-13 and will determine if it should be put in fiscal emergency.

Yost issued this statement on Terwilleger's resignation Friday:

"Our office has been working diligently to untangle the township finances. The fiscal officer’s resignation does not impact our work, which will continue."

Terwilleger, 73, had been fiscal officer since 1980, when she was appointed. She was subsequently elected six times to four-year terms.

Her husband, George Terwilleger, is a former township trustee and clerk who served 12 years as county commissioner and eight years as state representative, according to her bio on the Hamilton Township website.

It says Terwilliger took two years of classes at a Business College in Columbus and one year of accounting and business law.  She has been a real estate office manager, agent and partner for 21 years.

The bio was still posted Friday night, along with this notice:

"Jackie Terwilleger has retired from the elected position of Hamilton Township Fiscal Officer. Hamilton Township would like to thank Ms. Terwilleger for her thirty-four years of dedication to the position and service to the community. We wish Jackie well with her retirement and future endeavors."

Township audits list numerous funds with negative cash balances and instances of the township taking money from funds to cover deficits in others. The latter violates state law.

In one instance, a township building fund, used to pay for a new administration building in 2001, had a negative balance of $493,140 in 2002 that grew to $2.2 million in 2009.

Other problems cited by the audits include:

> Budgeting to spend more than the township expected to bring in, spending more than trustees approved and spending money without a purchase order.

> Keeping additional bank accounts not under the control of the financial management of the township.

> Listing some transactions in the wrong accounts and not recording some transactions at all.

> Underpaying and overpaying township employees due to accounting errors. The 2006-2007 audit found errors in 16 percent of payroll calculations tested (10 out of 60).

> Not making deposits in a timely manner as required by law.

> Not using generally accepted accounting principles.

A recently-elected township trustee, David Wallace, confirmed there are questions about mismanaged money. Wallace took office Jan. 1.

Township resident Ray Warrick said he is very concerned about what is happening with his tax money.

"There are trustees who have come and gone and a couple who sit on the board now who have been here enough time that you would think they would have a little bit more oversight or would have tried to say, let's get this fixed," Warrick said.

Lack of oversight has been a problem, according to audits prepared by Bastin & Co. of Cincinnati.

The 2005 audit (reported in 2008) cited "material weakness" in the township’s "past and present controls over its financial management operations."

It said those controls "have not been sufficiently designed or applied to ensure the complete, accurate and timely recording of financial transactions. The result of this weakness has been the Township’s inability to effectively manage its operations and to comply with applicable laws and regulations."

The township retained outside consultants to help prepare records for future audits, but Bastin & Co. cited the same problem in its 2009 audit (reported last November).

As part of that report , township trustees said they took action last July by adopting "a preliminary financial recovery plan to improve both the controls over financial reporting and the overall financial condition of the Township."

They said the plan includes:

>  Strengthening controls over its cash disbursement cycle;

>  Strengthening controls over its budgetary cycle, including additional monitoring of appropriations and routine comparisons of budget-to-actuals by township trustees;

> Developing multi-year forecasts for major funds;

> Requesting an annual audit and review of accounts from the state auditor's office;

> Creating the position of Finance Coordinator to provide "a new layer of supervision and review;"

> Adopting the Uniform Accounting Network (UAN);

Trustees now have to find a replacement for Terwilleger. Their next meeting is at 6 p.m., Monday,

March 17.

 

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