Judge absolves former Starke County treasurer of wrongdoing
By Terry Turner Post-Tribune correspondent October 23, 2012 4:26PM
Starke county treasurer Linda Belork. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 24, 2012 11:31PM
KNOX — Former Starke County Treasurer Linda Belork was present at the Starke County Treasurer’s Office, expecting to return to the position she was forced out of in August.
But after an emergency meeting of the Starke County Board of Commissioners, the Treasurer’s Office was closed until further notice.
Jasper Circuit Court Judge John Potter released a judgment late Thursday, which said that Belork was not delinquent in her duties as treasurer.
Further, Potter said she was not properly removed, and no material fact exists that any money was missing.
He ruled that the commissioners have agreed that the money was found, and that the issue resulted from accounting errors in the Auditor’s Office. He ruled the commissioners knew this suit was groundless, since at least Sept. 6, 2011, and yet they continued prosecuting it.
Potter ordered that Belork be reinstated immediately and ordered any injunction or restraining order to be lifted.
At the emergency meeting, the commissioners acknowledged the court order, and said that they “need and desire to comply with the court order (but) without a lack of court comments,” without a bond for Belork.
Also, Potter ruled that Belork is entitled to back pay for the salary she has lost, with 8 percent interest, since August 2011. The amount of money owed to Belork for back pay, benefits and interest will be determined at a hearing. The date for the hearing has not yet been set.
Belork was forced out of her position by the commissioners, in an action which the commissioners said was justified by state statute. Commissioner Dan Bridegroom said he believes the statute still applies.
The commissioners, at the time believed they were under pressureto respond to a State Board of Accounts audit that indicated there was an alleged shortage or misappropiation of funds, of up to $1 million, in the Treasurer’s Office. They also, at the time, sought to have Belork’s bond removed, filing suit against her bond. At the time, Starke County Council president Mark Smith also ordered that all Treasurer’s Office funds be frozen.
Belork’s attorney has argued her reputation been irreparably damaged. She lost a Democratic primary nomination in which she sought to regain her post.
Finally, at the emergency session, the commissioners, voted to close the office.
“The only option … I feel, (is) to close the office at this time. Yes, she is treasurer, but we cannot allow her to operate the office because of the liability (bond) issues,” Bridegroom said.
The commissioners and new Treasurer Casey Clark and Auditor Kay Chaffins reconciled records and cash balances, and then closed the office.
There is a drop box for tax payments at the government annex. Chaffins said tax bills can also be paid at the Knox 1st Source Bank office until the Treasurer’s Office is reopened.
Belork said she believes she can obtain a surety bond soon, and will reopen the office then, but for legal reasons, could not comment at this time.