Frequent county critic levels more accusations
At Monday’s Haywood County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board adopted a $69 million county budget, approved numerous budget amendments to clear out the fiscal year and defended the county’s finance officer against allegations they resoundingly said were unfounded.
The county’s chief and frequent critic, Waynesville resident Monroe Miller, alleged the county school system has been underpaid by about $15 million under a school funding formula agreed to in 2003.
In the budget adopted for the coming fiscal year, Miller claimed the school system should have received $18.6 million as opposed to the $14.6 million approved when the budget was adopted Monday if the formula had been applied correctly.
Miller called upon County Finance Officer Julie Davis to resign immediately, and said if she didn’t, the commissioners should fire her.
The issue is not one school leaders are embracing, and the accusations were immediately rebutted by the commissioners.
“Our board passed a resolution in support of the formula,” said Bill Nolte, associate superintendent of the school. “We’re funded in a very fair and reasonable way. Some counties provide no extra funds and some provide more, but we’re glad to have had the formula.”
Statistics show that Haywood County ranks 21st in the state when considering its per capita population and income rate in supporting public schools. There are 115 public school districts statewide.
Nolte said Miller shared his calculations with school officials, but didn’t want to comment on their accuracy.
“I’m not a mathematician or an accountant,” he said. “Plus, if he’s referred the issue to law enforcement, I can’t comment a lot on it.”
The commissioners were firm in their support of the county finance officer.
“I’ve heard him make inaccurate, misleading and inflammatory statements before, but I believe he has topped himself with this,” Chairman Mark Swanger said in reference to Miller’s statements, which he called “utter nonsense.”
Commissioner Kevin Ensley noted there are plenty of checks and balances, including the school system finance personnel and auditors, and said both the school and leaders have amicably approved budgets based on the voluntary formula.
Commissioner Mike Sorrells said in meetings across the state, Haywood’s school funding formula is a frequent topic as it has eliminated squabbling over how much of the county’s property tax revenue is dedicated to local education needs.
“We’ve not had an issue with either board,” Sorrells said. “Of course, they would like more money, and we would like to give more money, but to meet Mr. Miller’s figures, we’re talking about a 6- to 7-cent tax increase.”
County Attorney Chip Killian pointed out the school funding formula is not a statutory requirement, just a voluntary guideline devised to take the politics out of education funding.
He said arguments between the county and the school system in Union County have become so intense that the legislature was being asked to step in to avoid costly litigation — exactly the kinds of disagreements that had been avoided in Haywood.
Commissioner Bill Upton said he was the superintendent of Haywood County Schools when the school funding formula was devised, and noted making sure it worked the way it was supposed to was the responsibility of both the county and the school system.
To accuse only the county finance officer of wrongly computing the formula is misguided, he indicated, especially considering that all the numbers to be plugged into the formula were provided by the school system, and the many levels of review for the formula.
During the public comment section of the meeting, Miller said Davis “cooked the books” and falsified components of the formula.
He said he was only able to obtain a summary sheet of the calculations — one that provided few clues as to how the final numbers were derived. Miller told the board he reverse engineered the numbers to arrive at his calculations.
“I cracked the code,” he declared.
Davis declined to comment on the issue after Monday’s board meeting, but a June 13 email sent to the county manager and board members shed light on the issue.
“Since you all have been copied on the MM [Monroe Miller] emails regarding the school formula, I wanted you to be aware of what is in my spreadsheet,” the email states. “The years MM has referenced below and asked for my calculations, years 08-09 through 11-12, were years that we did not use the formula for appropriations due to the economy. From his perspective, out of ignorance, the calculations aren’t working. Of course they aren’t, since we did not calculate those years, just allocated what the county could. This explanation was included in the spreadsheet that I last sent to MM.”
While there could possibly have been a mistake made over a 10-year period, Davis said because only she and the school’s finance officer were reviewing the figures, she is confident the formula spreadsheet is materially accurate.
School Board Chairman Chuck Francis said his board is in the process of drafting a letter to the county commissioners expressing support of the funding formula and how it has been implemented, thanking them for their support for public education and saying how great Davis has been to work with through the years.
“We’ve always asked for more, but we’ve always agreed on the amount,” Francis said. “We didn’t have a problem when the number decreased. With the economic situation as it was, they had to adapt. We understand that.”
Miller and his small following have a history of frequently criticizing local government officials. While county officials are the most frequent target, he has taken on issues in Waynesville, Haywood Community College, the Haywood County Fairgrounds and the chairman of the Haywood County Republican Party, too.
His findings end up in a self-published, online newsletter, the inboxes of colleagues, the media and select government officials. His conclusions are often reported to state or law enforcement officials and have seldom gone anywhere.
“Most information he puts out that can be verified one way or the other has been discredited,” said Swanger. “I don’t take anything he says seriously.”
Swanger called Miller’s attacks abusive.
“I think appearing in front of the board and demanding that a well-thought of employee be fired is abusive,” he said. “Julie (Davis) is one of the most highly decorated finance officers in the state. I don’t understand why he wants to always tear down something.”
Swanger said county employees have told him about finding Miller eavesdropping on phone calls or conversations while standing out of sight in the hallways or making unwanted advances such as inviting a female county employee to his home or to have drinks with him.
“I don’t know what motivates him. Perhaps a mental health professional would have a much better way of knowing why he does what he does and why he does it the way he does it,” Swanger said. “I don’t know why a person would choose to be negative and abusive when they have the capacity to do good things.”
Miller routinely refuses to grant interviews to local newspapers.