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State auditor demanding repayment by local soldier

By Staff | May 12, 2008

Faribault County commissioners Tuesday snubbed their noses at the state auditor over whether to pay a county employee more military leave than allowed under state law.

Central services director Brenda Ripley says someone contacted the State Auditor’s Office to complain an overpayment had occurred and the money should be given back to the county.

Ripley says the county employee was called for duty in February 2007 and again in October.

“I don’t feel we should get anything back from him. It wasn’t his choice,” says Ripley.

Under state law and the county’s policy, a person has 15 days leave of absence a year to serve in the military. Instead, county officials decided to use the armed forces calendar year allowing 30 days.

Based on time card records, Ripley calculates the employee received 14 days of pay he shouldn’t have.

The idea of getting money back from someone serving during a time of war didn’t sit well with Commissioner Tom Warmka, a Viet Nam veteran.

He says he was shocked when he received a letter from Ripley regarding the complaint.

“I find this very appalling to me. This is B.S. in capital letters,” Warmka told the other commissioners.

“This is beneath low. They should be ashamed of themselves,” adds Warmka.

Commissioner Tom Loveall, a member of the county’s personnel committee, says he didn’t feel it was right penalizing a person called for military service. “In terms of national security, individual sacrifice and all other employees we wanted to come up with something that was fair,” Loveall says.

All commissioners were in agreement that having the money repaid was not the right thing to do.

Commissioner Butch Erichsrud says anybody currently in the military “is on sacred grounds” and the board should do everything it legally can to help them out.

The county’s legal counsel has recommended that officials seek repayment from the employee.

Ripley told the board the county should go back to its military leave policy for future cases.

She says the state auditor may “write up” the commissioners, but that happens in Blue Earth County when they give awards to the employees.

County attorney Brian Roverud was asked if what could be done about the two conflicting military leave policies. He says state lawmakers are the only ones that change the law.

Commissioner Bill Groskruetz says members of the Legislature should be contacted.

“This rule is not a good rule. We don’t need this in a war situation,” Groskruetz says.

Ripley would not name the person who contacted state officials.

Warmka says whoever did, evidently doesn’t have anything better to do.

He says the county should eat the overpayment. But, if the money must be repaid, it will come out of his commissioner’s salary.

Warmka also issued a warning if he finds out who it was that contacted the state auditor.

“They don’t want to go to war with me. I don’t take prisoners,” says Warmka.