TOPEKA, Kan. - Shawnee County Commissioners took action Wednesday to keep future Shawnee County district attorneys' spending under a much closer watch, following allegations former D.A. Robert Hecht padded his salary.
The first action taken was to establish a salary for district attorney that includes compensation for appellate work, putting a cap on that amount at $135,000. Current District Attorney Chad Taylor had already agreed to and signed the agreement, telling Commissioner Vic Miller he felt that was fair.
The second action taken by commissioners Thursday was related to diversion funds, 70% of which were used by the Shawnee County District Attorney's office and 30% of which was given to the county to help keep property taxes down.
Commissioner Miller said it was discovered Hecht had used diversion funds to pay himself a $400 car allowance each month, as well as paying his office manager $350 a month for a car allowance. Miller said there were other expenditures paid for by the fund, including flowers sent to people who did not work in the D.A.'s office and funds used for other county employees who did not work in the D.A.'s office.
The problem with that is that Miller said the diversion funds are to be used for the district attorney's office expenditures. "I'm not sure the legislature intended by establishing those funds that they'd be used for that kind of thing," said Miller. "The notion around all of those funds is that the use of the money is intended for public good, not for someone's personal benefit."
In speaking with District Attorney Taylor, Miller said he indicated that he does not have an interest in those monies from the diversion fund, and willingly entered into an agreement with the county to give it 100% control of the fund.
"It's subject to the district attorney's request now if he wishes to utilize some of that money for costs associated with his office he can, upon request, get approval by the board," Miller said.
Taylor issued a statement Thursday, saying: "As Shawnee County District Attorney I am committed to running an open and transparent office. Shawnee County taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent and who is spending their money. Releasing one hundred percent of diversion funds to the Shawnee County Commission is another step towards increased transparency and accountability. My administration will continue to adhere to these principles of open government in our efforts to construct a more responsive, more accountable Shawnee County District Attorneys Office."
Although the issue was not brought to the public's attention until Hecht left office in January 2009, Hecht's budget activity over the past seven years was called into question in the fall of 2008 when Shawnee County counsel, Richard Eckert, looked into what makes up the D.A.'s salary. He and Miller noticed Hecht paid himself for appellate work that Miller believed under state statute, should have been requested by Hecht from the county commission rather than tacked onto his payroll.
13 News called Hecht Thursday, but he said he had no comment on the new accusations. Previously, Hecht said he was told to add appellate work to his payroll and questioned why no one called his method into question for seven years.
Miller said Beck should have noticed something suspicious with Hecht's payroll requests and alerted the commission. "When payroll goes to her office, she's the one responsible for payroll," Miller said of Beck. "I told her that while she's an independent elected office, and I do not supervise her people, I still think there are things that rise to the level of responsibility on her part to report to us. This being one of them."
Beck has been Shawnee County Clerk since 1997. Miller has been on the commission since 2001. He said Beck told him she brought the issue of the district attorney appellate pay being added as "miscellaneous" to the D.A.'s payroll sheet prior to Hecht or Miller entering office. "I'm anxious to see what she has to prove that she informed the commissioners," Miller said. "That's not the sotry she gave me the first time we talked."
Attorney General Steve Six is investigating whether Hecht illegally issued funds to himself. He expects the investigation to take several weeks.
In the meantime, Shawnee County has filed a lawsuit to try to collect some of the $482,895 Hecht paid himself in appellate compensation between 2001 and 2008.