Officials make calls for open government

Robin Fornoff

An otherwise routine Curry County Commission meeting got startled by calls for more open government Tuesday from two top elected officials.

It started with Commissioner Dan Stoddard, who accused County Manager Lance Pyle of trying to hide $7,200 in a cash payout for unused vacation time.

Later while announcing her retirement effective April 30, Treasurer Bernice Baker said she allowed herself to be “brow beat” by Pyle and two commissioners and the past three years were some of the most difficult of her life.

Stoddard said he questioned the checks at a Feb. 21 meeting and it took 17 days to get a response from Pyle.

Stoddard also noted that when originally asked about the checks, Pyle said he “didn’t know what they were.”

“I find it hard to believe Mr. Pyle requested a payout for $7,200 (and) asked check(s) be paid in such a manner his own name was not on them,” Stoddard said. “This is the people’s money and they have a right to know how it is being spent and the information they request should be done in a timely manner.”

Stoddard said after the meeting that he felt Pyle was being deceptive.

Pyle said he is entitled to be paid for any vacation time not used each year under his contract.

Pyle also said on the day Stoddard asked him about the checks, they were among more than 800 totaling more than $2 million listed for commission approval.

“When he (Stoddard) asked that question,” Pyle said, “I had 894 checks to look through.

“This is a standard and customary practice (paying for unused vacation time),” Pyle said. “It has been done every year.”

In fact, Pyle said, Stoddard and the other commissioners approved an estimated $9,000 payout to a county employee Tuesday for unused vacation time.

Baker said she wasn’t going to get into specifics about her charges against Pyle and others. She did say she had repeatedly requested copies of the county budget and was denied them by Pyle for each of the last two years.

Baker has been with the county 21 1/2 years, including one term as treasurer.

Pyle said he was surprised by Baker’s remarks.

“I’ve enjoyed working with Bernice and I wish her the best in her retirement,” Pyle said.

Chairman Wendell Bostwick said, “I guess I was set back by her comments.”

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned,” Bostwick said, “it’s that you’ve got to have a tough skin to hold public office.”