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Attorney General weighs in on spat over deputy gloves

Jan 3, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The final word in the Fremont County Commission's long disagreement with Sheriff Skip Hornecker over gloves leaves the situation open for interpretation.

Commissioners ended the row April 10 when they approved an expense for two pairs of work gloves for the Fremont County Sheriff's Office, but the dispute could have future ramifications.

The commission reviewed a letter Dec. 18 from the Wyoming Attorney General explaining which circumstances allow the commission to deny vouchers from elected officials and suggesting the budgeting process is the strongest power the commission has over spending money.

In its letter, Attorney General Greg Phillips's office said if funds are available, the commission cannot deny a voucher from an elected official "As long as the expenditure at issue legitimately falls within the scope of the approved budget."

The commission does not have a duty nor an authority "to determine whether the official's expenses are necessary for his office" if the expense fits within a budget line item and money is available, the letter says.

The letter added that if commissions could deny vouchers outside of those parameters, they would in effect amend the county budget without the regulations and public hearings normally required for such action.

The dispute started in March 2012, when Hornecker submitted a voucher for $69.90 to buy two pairs of gloves for his deputies.

Commissioners refused to approve the purchase because they said the gloves are not part of the taxpayer-funded uniform.

Sheriff Hornecker contended the commission does not have the authority to deny his purchases because he is an elected official, and a line item within his budget had funds to cover the purchase.

After the commission failed to act on the voucher, Hornecker hired an attorney and launched litigation in April against the commission.

The county board eventually did approve the voucher on April 10 after hearing advice from Fremont County Attorney Brian Varn and deputy attorney Jodi Darrough.

If the expense properly fell within the line item, the Attorney General's letter would support both Hornecker's argument and the commission's decision to approve the voucher in the end.

The AG's opinion said county commissions can disallow a voucher if an expense does not fall within a budgeted appropriation.

Commission chairman Doug Thompson said he felt the gloves did not belong in the uniform line item.

"It's been misrepresented by the sheriff" that the voucher is "for replacement equipment," he said April 10.

Thompson said the work gloves are not part of the uniform the county buys for its sheriff's deputies, so they do not constitute "replacement equipment."

After receiving the Attorney General's letter, Thompson said he is confident the commission would have been within its purview if the voucher had been denied.

The Attorney General further advised how county boards can exercise their authority over the county's finances through the budget review and adoption process when they are able to make changes.

"This opinion will be held close to our decision table," said Thompson at the Dec. 18 meeting. "It puts more importance on the budgetary process."

Thompson later said that during budget hearings the commission will ask what, specifically, departments will include in their line items, which will put the details in the public record.

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Fremont County Commissioners