Drug & Tobacco Free falls under Starke County commission scrutiny

KNOX — Several officers from the Starke County Tourism Board approached the Starke County Commissioners during their Monday morning meeting to discuss the mishandling of funds that involved two local organizations.
"Debbie Mix, Tabitha Dillner and Rich Wieczorek appeared before the commissioners, at their request, to discuss an ongoing incident regarding Jenny Carter and the mishandling of $7140," Starke County Commission President Kathy Norem said.
According to the group, Carter is said to have written a check from Starke County Tourism to Drug and Tobacco Free Starke County for $7140 in March 2011. The commissioners were told that Carter, who is the Coalition Coordinator for Drug and Tobacco Free Starke County, explained the check as being needed to pay some sort of back taxes.
Deb Mix, a member of the Starke County Tourism Board, said the group contacted the commissioners to provide them with the necessary information to make an informed decision regarding how their funds are spent.
"We've provided the commissioners with all the documentation necessary to make an informed decision on whom they fund," Mix said.
Norem said the commissioners were told this was not the first questionable incident. The board also said that they were suspicious and had begun to look into the matter.
"There were some subsequent transfers in and out between the tourism board and Drug and Tobacco Free Board. The board became suspicious and began tracing the paper trail. It turned out that Jenny Carter admitted to the misappropriation of the funds and agreed to pay them back by March 15, 2012," Norem said.
The group also informed the commissioners that Carter had in fact paid part of the funds back already.
Norem said that Starke County Auditor Kay Chaffins was asked to contact Carter, after the Tourism board requested a meeting, to ask her to bring copies of all the records.
"There are multiple boards she (Carter) serves on that deal with taxpayer money . . . As a result of the Tourism report and Carters having failed to submit records in time specified, the commissioners took action," Norem said.
One of the first decisions made by the commissioners involves Starke County Attorney Martin Lucas making contact with Carter.
"We requested Marty Lucas to send Jenny Carter a letter requesting her immediate resignation from the Convention and Tourism Board. Her failure to resign by the next meeting will result in commissioners taking steps to remove her," Norem said.
Carter said that she has in fact resigned from all boards that she sat on. She said she took that step in January.
The next decision made by the commissioners was for Lucas to contact the chairman of Drug and Tobacco Free Starke County to inform her of the issues that had developed. The commission also instructed that a demand for all records involving Drug and Tobacco Free Starke County to be surrendered to the commissioners.
Because their is an issue with the funds of Drug and Tobacco Free Starke County, the commissioners are not the only government entity that will be involved in remedying the situation.
"Furthermore, the commissioners will inform the Council at their next meeting about the situation and request that any further appropriations for this fund be held until the issues are resolved to the satisfaction of the commissioners," Norem said.
Because Carter sits on numerous boards, Norem said additional steps will also be taken to make those entities aware of the situation.
"We need to determine who is the appointing authority for Drug Free Partnership, Tourism and Drug and Tobacco free Starke County as well as any multi-county boards and report the events that have occurred," she said.
Norem said the matter will then be handed over to Starke County Prosecutor Nicholas Bourff.
The final step the commission took at Monday's meeting was a suggestion to clean house.
"We did suggest that the Tourism Board all resign," she said.