Officials air concerns about embattled Hancock County finance chief

Phil Roy
Phil Roy
Posted June 26, 2012, at 8:55 p.m.

LAMOINE, Maine — Hancock County’s chief financial officer was not at the meeting, but Phil Roy was the major topic of conversation when the Mount Desert Island League of Towns met Tuesday morning at the local town office.

Some municipal officials who serve on the league board expressed concern about Roy’s record of managing other people’s money and suggested that the creation of a county manager who would supervise Roy might help ease some of their concerns. The chairman of the county commission, however, said Tuesday that the commission is happy with how Roy has managed the county’s finances and that hiring a county manager likely would just increase county taxes.

The league’s board members, comprised mainly of top town administrators who work on or near MDI, continued publicly airing their concerns about Roy, who has served as the county’s chief financial officer since January 2009. The league’s board first publicly discussed its concerns at its meeting last month when it decided to request a meeting with Hancock County commissioners.

Steve Joy, chairman of the county commission, was at the meeting Tuesday to discuss their concerns.

Other county officials have publicly criticized Roy over things he has done as the county’s top financial administrator, including transferring funds from and to the county’s airport account.

Roy, who lives in the Somerset County town of Fairfield, also has received public scrutiny recently from the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting for things he has done beyond his professional duties in Hancock County. In a story published in May, MCPIR reported that Roy used $15,000 of funds he managed for the Maine Republican Party and for a federally funded agency in the Waterville area to buy himself a camper.

Roy eventually paid the money back with interest, MCPIR reported, but not without the FBI and state auditor looking into the matter to determine if the transaction was improper.

The media reports have alarmed some municipal officials in Hancock County, who have expressed concern about how the county is handling their residents’ tax money.

Dana Reed, town manager of Bar Harbor and chairman of the MDI League of Towns board, said Tuesday that the league doesn’t really have any authority over how the county handles it finances but that the league has been urged by some MDI area residents to approach the county about the situation.

“We have people coming to us asking, ‘what are you going to do about it?,’” Reed said.

Reed added that the issue of Roy’s financial stewardship has been “passed over too lightly” by county officials. He said he finds it hard to believe that anyone who is entrusted to manage someone else’s money, taxpayer dollars or otherwise, would think it is OK to use that money to buy a camper for his or her personal use, as Roy is alleged to have done.

“We’ve not been reassured that things are well in hand,” Reed said. “Anybody who handles tax dollars should know that is a problem.”

Joy told the league board that Roy reviews all checks that the county issues to pay its bills. The county deputy treasurer, who is appointed by part-time elected Treasurer Janice Eldridge, prepares the checks and Eldridge signs them. Joy, as commission chairman, reviews all the financial warrants before they are submitted to the commission for approval at the commission’s monthly meeting. That process, he added, provides ample oversight for how the county spends its money.

Other members of the league board expressed concern about how the county government is organized — which Joy acknowledged is “strange.” The commissioners, sheriff, treasurer and registrar of deeds all are elected directly by the voters, Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt noted, which seems to create inherent conflict between county officials on how department budgets are maintained.

“It certainly appears dysfunctional to me,” Lunt said.

Stu Marckoon, administrative assistant to selectmen in Lamoine, suggested the county consider creating a top county administrator or manager position who would oversee the work done by Roy.

Joy said creating such a position likely would add between $90,000 and $110,000 to the county’s annual budget. He said he personally is opposed to hiring a county manager because of the expense it would add to the county budget, but if the county gets enough feedback urging them to consider creating such a position he’d be willing to discuss it with other commissioners.

Reed said that a county manager who has a more clearly defined supervisory role than Roy does might be worth the investment. Twelve of the 16 counties in Maine have a top county administrator who oversees the county budget and other functions.

Reed said a qualified county manager likely would have conducted a background check on Roy before he was hired — something Joy acknowledged the commissioners did not do.

“Would we do that in the future?” Joy said. “Yes, we probably would.”

Joy pointed out, however, that Roy was hired by the county in January 2009, months before he is alleged to have used money he managed for other organizations to buy the camper. Had they done a background check on Roy, he said, none of those allegations would have surfaced because the incident hadn’t occurred yet.

Sheriff William Clark said after the meeting, however, that if commissioners had done a background check on Roy, they still would have found out that he was charged with theft in 1995. According to printed criminal history on Roy, the charge eventually was dismissed. There are no other charges listed with the criminal history, which was provided Tuesday to the Bangor Daily News.

According to a report on the incident prepared May 9, 1996, by a Presque Isle Police Department detective, the charge stemmed from allegations of improper financial transactions at a Presque Isle construction firm that Roy owned and operated. Roy was accused of withholding money from an employee’s paycheck for health insurance, even though the company’s health insurance policy had been canceled months earlier, the report indicates.

The employee reported the allegations to police in February 1996, saying that Roy continued to withhold $41.70 from his paycheck each week, even though the company’s health insurance policy was canceled when the December 1995 premium had not been paid.

Roy was charged with misuse of entrusted funds, according to the report.

According to Clark, the charge was dismissed with the condition that Roy repay the money. Still, the sheriff said, the fact that Roy was charged prohibits Roy from working as a law enforcement officer or dispatcher in Maine.

Clark said that he would like it if the county created a manager position and if Roy’s duties were limited to bookkeeping. But he said his preference would be for Roy to stop working for the county altogether.

“He never should have been hired in the first place,” Clark said. “He shouldn’t be there today.”

Roy, contacted by phone Tuesday evening, declined to comment on the 1995 charge or on any of the allegations or criticism he has received.

After the league meeting, Joy said that if commissioners had learned of the dismissed misuse charge against Roy from 1995, they might have looked into it further and ended up hiring him anyway. He added that Roy has passed a background check conducted by Maine State Police and is authorized to access a computer server in the county’s regional dispatch center. The server also supports computers in the county’s financial office, Joy said.

The commissioner added that Roy never has been charged as a result of any of the camper-related allegations leveled against him. Roy only can be let go for cause, he said, and short of any new alleged criminal conduct, the commissioners have no cause to terminate him.

Joy defended the job Roy has done for the county. Before the county created Roy’s position, the county’s finances were managed by an elected full-time treasurer. Sally Crowley, the last full-time elected treasurer the county had, mostly did a good job but also was struggling with cancer up until her death while in office in October 2008, he said.

He said Roy implemented an electronic system that keeps better track of when county employees come on and go off duty at work, which Joy said led to a corrections officer being convicted of theft for falsifying her time sheets.

Joy said Roy also has reduced the number of excess checking accounts maintained by the county, has helped secure a $235,000 grant to improve energy efficiency at the county courthouse, and helped reduce the jail construction bond by $250,000 by getting the debt refinanced. The county CFO also has helped reduce costs incurred by county credit cards, retirement benefits, and banking fees, and saved the county money by consolidating its cellphone plans.

Joy attributed the resistance Roy has met from other county officials to dissatisfaction that they no longer have as much autonomy over their department budgets as they used to.

“Nobody wants to talk about those [accomplishments],” Joy said. “We have better [financial] oversight today than we ever had.”

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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