(Host) Policymakers say it’s unclear whether more Vermonters are actually embezzling money, but there are certainly more media reports of the white-collar crime affecting cities and towns.
So, as VPR’s Kirk Carapezza reports, they’re working to provide a set of standards for small town governments to thwart it themselves.
(Carapezza) No town is immune from embezzlement.
And Karen Horn with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns says it’s difficult for smaller towns that have fewer people to take the precautions necessary to prevent it.
(Horn) "Really if you have one person doing everything, that’s a recipe for trouble."
(Carapezza) But Horn says that’s exactly the situation in dozens of towns, so her agency is developing a handbook for best practices in safeguarding public purse strings. She says it will include a checklist of questions…
(Horn) "Are billings collection and posting performed by separate employees or departments?"
(Carapezza) Does the town have a policy for, say, uncollectible accounts?
(Horn) "For use of credit cards? For purchases? For use of wire transfers? Does the employee who writes the checks open the bank statements? If the answer is no, or don’t know, that’s not a wrong answer. What it does is point out that there’s an area that you need to work on."
(Carapezza) The League of Cities and Towns says tracking the exact number of embezzlement cases is difficult because it’s unclear whether all towns even report them.
But there are some recent examples. In April, the ex-treasurer in Ira pleaded guilty to stealing $300,000 from the town. In Isle La Motte, the longtime town clerk was convicted of stealing more than $100,000 from public coffers.
Tig Tillinghast is the chairman of the Select Board in Thetford. He says some towns balk at the opportunity to investigate.
(Tillinghast) "The act of verifying can be seen as almost insulting."
(Carapezza) But he says Thetford has been vigilant, and would welcome a handbook.
(Tiillinghast) "That’s probably the thing we lack because, of course, one of the things that municipalities have as a problem is institutional memory. And handing off these procedures from one group to the next, if there’s a handbook there’s almost a normative authority."
(Carapezza) Now, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns is looking for a small group of so-called pilot towns to iron out the wrinkles – the things that may or may not work well in practice – before issuing its guidelines later next year.
For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza.