County Chairman Keith Ellis has rescinded his invitation to local citizen Ann Neuhierl to serve on the committee seeking to reform the purchasing policy, telling her that “the original candidate is now available.”
“I will be offering the position to that individual,” Ellis wrote in an e-mail, which Neuhierl provided to The News Friday.
Neuhierl, who sells furniture to state and federal agencies and is intimately familiar with their purchasing policies, has already attended both committee meetings held thus far and was outspoken about the need to rework the county policy in the spirit of other government agencies.
Specifically, she suggested lowering the value limit of gifts to county employees from $50 to $25. She also pointed out that the state does not allow contracts to be awarded to vendors who owe taxes, a reference to County Attorney Tommy Craig, who owes millions in federal taxes and penalties.
When Commissioner Levie Maddox expressed concern that the committee was singling out Craig, Neuhierl pointed out that Craig was billing the county for more than other vendors. According to a report distributed at that same meeting, Craig appears on track to bill the county $1.2 million this fiscal year, putting the county significantly over budget on legal fees.
“It seems to me this is an ethics issue,” said Neuhierl at the time, referring to a measure requiring all vendors to have paid their taxes. “I don’t understand what the objection might be to not follow that.”
On Friday, she clarified that “I’m vocal about the process by which he [Craig] is hired as much as his performance."
She confirmed that Ellis had had another candidate in mind when he initially approached her, but called his decision to rescind her invitation now, after two meetings, “interesting.”
“I’m not sure what all of this is about,” she said, adding that conversations with Ellis had led her to believe he preferred the status quo, which she does not support.
Over the past several weeks, the Board has formed several citizen committees to deal with pressing issues, including the landfill, form of government and purchasing policy.
“The only reason you would want to do that…is that you want to get answers from somewhere else than where you’ve been getting them, i.e. Tommy Craig,” she said. “He’s given the board all their answers and now they are forming committees and hoping to get the same answers from the community that they’ve been getting from Tommy Craig, which is ‘do whatever you want to do,’ and that’s concerning.”
Ellis denied that he had removed Neuhierl over her comments on Craig, pointing out that he had not attended either policy committee meeting.
"This has absolutely nothing to do with that," he said. "When someone is critical of the Board of Commissioners and they have been appointed to a committee by a board member, they should be respectful to the board member and not make critical statements online or in public."
It was not clear whether he was referring to Neuhierl's comments while she was on the committee or since her removal. When asked if he removed Neuhierl because she made critical comments, Ellis said, "[I removed her] to find someone who will be representative of my thoughts."
Neuhierl said she would continue to attend the meetings as a citizen. The next is scheduled for Friday, April 24.