By JONATHAN ZWEYGARDT
Ellis County Treasurer Lisa Schlegel said the continued successes she has brought to the office are proof she’s the right candidate in her bid for re-election.
Schlegel, who was elected in 2016, began serving his first term in October 2017.
Prior to that, Schlegel worked in banking at Fort Hays State University and at the University of Kansas.
Schlegel said since she took office the treasurer’s department has delivered “unprecedent success.”
“I have performed all the statutory duties of treasurer with unprecedented excellence,” Schlegel said. “We have unprecedented tax collection percentages, new tax collection methods, such as stop codes on motor vehicle (and) oil garnishments.”
Schlegel also touted her ability to negotiate better interest rates with the banks.
“I have unprecedented interest income, contractual negotiations with banking industries that are the best they’ve ever been, and I’m always updating my interest income agreements and looking for the best deal we can get,” Schlegel said.
She also added that she has renegotiated the interest on the county’s idle funds account for a higher return on investment.
If re-elected, Schlegel said she will continue to implement many of the policies she said has made the department run more efficiently.
“I am the first office in the county to voluntarily cut operating hours and the first county office eliminate a full-time deputy,” Schlegel said, noting the move saved the county more than $60,000.
“My expenditures in operating the treasury are still lower than the expenditures were in 2016,” Schlegel said, “so we’re doing more while spending less.”
Schlegel said that she is “excited to just kind of maintain” the changes she has implemented in the department if re-elected.
“Everyone is finally cross trained. It’s the first department that’s cross trained in the county,” Schlegel said. “There’s no duties that the county’s required statutorily to do that only one person knows how to do.”
Schlegel also has implemented an extension outreach effort through the department’s newsletter.
“I am the first county treasurer to make myself transparent and available to the taxpayers by informing them of what’s going on in financially,” Schlegel said.
She said continuing to produce the newsletter and make it and more information about the county government available through the treasurer’s website will be a priority if she is re-elected.
“I want to see if we can do a little more with citizen engagement and communication,” Schlegel said. “I really want to keep people more engaged and informed of what’s going on at the county as a hole but then also the treasury.”
Schlegel also plans to be more hands-on if re-elected.
“Now that I’ve spent my first term learning about all the things that we could do better and implementing programs that have always existed but the treasury hasn’t always implemented, I’d like to play maybe a more hands-on part in doing some of the actual work,” Schlegel said.
“Maybe sitting up front and doing renewals occasionally,” she said. “I miss public contact in that way.”
Schlegel has had several very public run-ins with members of the county commission during her time in office. Most recently, she was removed from a budget hearing after getting into an argument with commission chair Butch Schlyer.
She acknowledged the incidents have made it more difficult to do the job of treasurer but said, “these clashes have everything to do with the commissioners and nothing to do with me.”
“The challenges that have come about have arisen because the county officials around here don’t understand or don’t adhere to the hierarchy of power,” Schlegel said. “A county treasurer and a county commissioner are equal on the hierarchy.”
Schlegel said she believes the current group of county commissioners are working to get her out of office.
“Because I’m not a good ol’ boy. Because I’m don’t keep quiet,” Schlegel said. “Because if I have questions about why the public was lied to about when the landfill burnt down, about the time that it occurred and my questions aren’t answered. I don’t quit asking them.
“I’m sure what they’ll fight for, if I don’t win, is to try to get me to resign a year early, and that’s never going to happen,” Schlegel said. “They’ll have to drag my dead body out this door.”
On social media, Schlegel has attacked one of her opponents in the treasurer race, Solid Waste Supervisor Vernon Ruder Jr., claiming he and Public Works Director Bill Ring covered up a September fire that destroyed a landfill building and a backhoe.
In her posting on her campaign's re-election Facebook page, Schlegel claimed someone was allowed to enter the landfill after hours and place rags in a bin, which later caught fire.
An investigation of the fire proved no wrongdoing after officials found that rags covered in wood stain were improperly disposed of late in the afternoon on Sept. 26. The rags spontaneously combusted several hours later, causing the building on fire, according to the investigation.
Schlegel’s claim that someone accessed the landfill after hours also runs contrary to evidence.
In security footage obtained by Hays Post, a man is seen dropping off the rags at 4:02 p.m. Sept. 26. Footage shows the fire erupting several hours later, at approximately 4 a.m.
With the loss of a backhoe in the fire, Ring said the county rented a backhoe while waiting on a new one. The rental and two separate inspections of the backhoe by the equipment dealer resulted in a bill of just less than $5,000.
Ring said that the insurance company covered all of the expenses associated with the backhoe and paid to replace the one lost in the fire.
On social media, Schlegel incorrectly alleged that taxpayer funds paid to replace the building and backhoe.
Ring said the landfills insurance paid to replace both the building and the backhoe. He also pointed out that the landfill is an enterprise fund and no taxpayer funds go to the landfill.
Schlegel said the reason she wanted to be the treasurer was because the position has the power to “see everything.”
“We’re in a budget crunch, so I am looking at things extra closely? Yeah,” Schlegel said. “Not only in my own budget, in the county’s expenditures as a whole when they all come across my desk.”
Ellis County Administrator J.D. Cox said, after consulting with counselor Bill Jeter, said it is not the treasurer’s duty, as Schlegel claims, to weigh in on expenditures that have been approved by the commission and the administrator.
Schlegel has also raised concerns about the connection her opponents have to local government in Ellis County.
Ruder’s son, Mason, is the county’s environment planning supervisor. Sherry Dryden’s husband had worked for the sheriff’s department until retiring in June.
“When they (the county commission) give you pushback and your son works for a department, where they are literally his boss, you will comply,” Schlegel said. “That makes a county official beholden to special interests other than those of the citizens.”