Frequent county critic levels more accusations

By Vicki Hyatt | Jun 17, 2014
Monroe Miller

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.”

 

Board unwavering

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.

Code cracking

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.”

 

Long history

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.

Comments (10)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jun 17, 2014 16:31

This is a he-said-she-said article.  Was there an error made or not?  Is the issue resolved that the only material problem is that the formula was not used in some years?  And if that was the issue, why didn't someone just tell Mr. Monroe that to begin with?  Was that common knowledge or something done outside of public record?

 

Thanks for reporting this, but I'd like to see some follow-up independent analysis of the two sides to be able to form an opinion as to where the problem lies -- not so much whose side I want to be.

 

Referred to law enforcement?  Really?



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jun 17, 2014 20:26

Wow.  That "long history" section is quite damning.  This is a reported news article.  If this factual news is to be discredited, then I think the "discredit" part is what is missing.  If this story has no merit, then why is it reported as news?



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jun 17, 2014 20:34

Speaking of "discredited", The Mountaineer ought to stop using County Attorney Chip Killian as a reference.  He has been discredited.  (Yet in this article, his contributions are benign.)



Posted by: John C Sanderson | Jun 18, 2014 18:51

In my opinion, The Mountaineer did a credible job of reporting on this individual's attempt to discredit - and demand the resignation/firing of - "one of the most highly decorated finance officers in the state" over her supposed failure to adhere strictly to a "voluntary guideline" during some years of economic hardship in the county. Of course, this is only one person's accusation, backed up solely by his conclusions derived from "reverse engineering" and "code cracking" based upon some summary figures and absolutely no firsthand knowledge of anything. No one on the Board of Commissioners and no one affiliated with the Board of Education seems to have a problem with the budgets agreed to over the years, even though all of them seem to be unanimous in their wish that more funding could have been available for education. And they certainly don't seem to have a problem with the job performance to date of the Haywood County Finance Officer, Ms. Davis. This is not a "he-said-she-said" article. This is a "he said, and everyone else with any credibility said" article.

 

The only thing that makes something like this newsworthy is the rather pointed public attack that this individual, Mr. Miller, made on Ms. Davis. Accusations like those he made cannot, and should not, be ignored by the local press. A person's character and professional standing were attacked in a very public way. The Mountaineer appropriately spoke with a representative sample of those who stand firmly in support of Ms. Davis' and everyone else's attempts to adhere as best they could to these VOLUNTARY guidelines over the years (which was EVERYONE involved, other than Mr. Miller). The Mountaineer duly noted, as well, that Mr. Miller "routinely refuses to grant interviews to local newspapers," so he chose to let his "reverse engineering" and "code cracking" accusations stand on their own merit (or fall on their lack thereof).

 

As for that "Long History" section, don't context and historical actions matter? Of course they do, and The Mountaineer's attempt to provide some meaningful historical context to this personal attack on a public official was both appropriate and necessary. Does Mr. Miller's documented history of "frequently criticizing local government officials" discredit his attacks on Ms. Davis? Maybe it does for some readers, and maybe it doesn't for some other readers. But what it does do is provide some very relevant background information - and context - for anyone reading this article who has no knowledge of either Mr. Miller or Ms. Davis.

 

And finally: "The Mountaineer ought to stop using County Attorney Chip Killian as a reference"???? A local newspaper should stop interviewing the County Attorney to seek his opinion or position on issues affecting the county? You have to be kidding.

Furthermore: "He [Chip Killian] has been discredited." Sounds like someone else is trying to act like Mr. Miller here...and without even presenting evidence derived from "reverse engineering" and "code breaking." That's what I call very poor form.



Posted by: Doris Hammett | Jun 18, 2014 19:07

June 18, 2014

Monroe Miller

19 Big Spruce Lane

Waynesville, NC 28786

 

Dear Mr. Miller:

          This is the first time I have contacted you although for years I could see your road and house on the mountain from my Waynesville Surrey Road home. You have been in my consciousness.

          Thank you for your concern for funding of our educational system in Haywood County.  You join many others in this concern. Haywood now ranks 21st in the states 115 public school districts state wide. This is a great improvement from 1960 at the beginning of Terry Sanford’s Governorship when North Carolina School System ranked among the tenth worse nationwide. 

          We as individuals can make a difference in Haywood County by working with the system.  The Haywood County Public Schools Foundation handles donations to our schools following the requests of the donor.  Dr. Frank and I started a fund in 1998 at Haywood Community College with the purpose to assure every graduate of Haywood County High Schools the funding for two years at the Community College.  I have worked with the Public Schools Foundation the last three years, first with a small donation increasing over the years as I have found that the staff not only helpful but willing to share my questions and ideas with other educators.

          In an effort to improve all the levels of the students in our schools, my idea is to raise the ceiling for all.  I have done this by establishing the Excellence in Education Trust which income will be directed as per my requests over the years.  I invite you to investigate this means of influencing the education in Haywood County.

          Please consider a tax deductible donation to the Foundation to make an impact on our future. Make it in the name of your grandson who died here in Haywood County as the result of a terrible accident.

          Thank you for your concern. I hope to make it a positive influence.

Doris B. Hammett, MD

400 Wesley Drive

Asheville NC 28803

dbhammett1@hotmail.com



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jun 18, 2014 21:05

In my opinion, Mr. Miller's methods and tactics are in poor form.  Bringing the concern forward may be legitimate - I can't tell from the article though if the concern is legitimate.  The point of the concern is overshadowed from what appears to be severe frustration -- or perhaps Mr. Miller is not acting in good faith.  Without someone actually discrediting his concern, it stands as something that should be examined -- but done in good faith.

 

The last time (that I can recall) this paper attempted to discredit Mr. Miller's criticisms it was about someone having too much public service.  (Again, I think Mr. Miller's forum and tactic was in poor form.)  But you know what, he was right.  All evidence then supported the criticism that it was improper to have too much public service.  And Mr. Killian's support of an unsupportable position was improper.  (Apologies.  I should have referenced this article in my previous comments.)  The facts were presented here:

 

http://themountaineer.villagesoup.com/p/legal-counsel-to-haywood-county-board-of-directors/1143843

 

So I agree that Ms. Davis's character was unfairly attacked.  What I would like is to not return that level of Jerry-Springer-politics in a credible paper.  I can get that elsewhere.

 

The "long history" section was indeed relevant as the backstory -- but only if the objective of the story was character assassination.  If the story is about discrediting the accusations, that part is seemingly missing.

 

Government watchdog people and groups are good.  But they ought to operate in good faith.  Examine the facts before "discrediting" the charges made.  Otherwise, it's just an opinion.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jun 18, 2014 21:09

Follow-up: The polar-opposite of Jerry-Springer-politics = Dr. Hammett.  I too think it would be beneficial to channel Mr. Miller's high level of enthusiasm and energy into something positive.



Posted by: J S | Jun 19, 2014 13:03

You can read everything Mr. Miller has to say at haywoodtp.net

I have no opinion on who was right or wrong but at least you can see his "math".



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jun 19, 2014 14:25

Whoa!  That was some heavy reading.  It would be hard for anyone to hear his message over the tone of how he delivers his message.  But really, let’s try to decipher the concern to see if it has any merit.  The last time Mr. Miller was so prominently reported in this paper (that I remember), his concern was legitimate.  Disturbing to me was elected officials, the county attorney, and this paper seemingly went on auto-pilot in attempts to dismiss Mr. Miller’s accusations – and they were all wrong in doing so. 

 

I see these as questions that should be answered:

 

1)      There were years the funding formula was not used.  Was this done properly?  If there was expectation that the funding formula was to be used, was deviation from it done with proper authority and communication?  (Forget if there was a legal requirement to use the formula or not – just as a matter of Open Meetings Laws, internal processes and controls, county policy, etc.)

2)      There was mention that “a mistake over a 10-year period” could have occurred.  This ought to be identified and quantified – not just subjectively stated as “materially accurate.”

 

Once these facts have been discovered, only then should anyone start to wonder why any errors or deviations occurred.  People make mistakes.  If mistakes were not caught by the many people who should have reviewed the formula and its use, that raises another question down another path.

 

And as a friendly amendment to the proposal, since Mr. Miller is so active as a watchdog, perhaps he needs a handler to channel his activities into something constructive.  Seems like he may have missed his calling as an auditor.  Wouldn’t it be great for the county to get free internal audit help?



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jun 19, 2014 14:43

Did Chairman Swanger really ask in a budget workshop, "If you don't use the funding formula, then what good is it?"  Was Chairman Swanger in office during the years when the county was allowed to deviate from it?



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