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Clerk should just give the money back

June 24, 2011
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

It looks like Lake Placid village Clerk Kathryn "Kook" McKillip won't be charged with theft or anything else in criminal court, so that leaves two big questions: Will she keep her job, and will she repay the village $22,774 she took for unused leave time she never accrued during her regrettable time as the village's paymaster?

After a lengthy investigation, Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne decided he can't prove she wasn't authorized to take the money because the village's accounting practices were lax in those days.

"Some of these things were handled rather loosely," he told the Enterprise.

Ex-mayor Jamie Rogers says he doesn't know whether Ms. McKillip had a green light to pay herself extra - that is, beyond her $60,000-plus salary and her tens of thousands of dollars in payouts for unused leave time she actually did accrue - for hours she worked on nights, weekends and holidays.

"When I was mayor, the village clerk took no more than a week's vacation ever," Mr. Rogers told the Enterprise. "She worked a lot of extra hours. As far as accounting of time, I don't know the details."

If the mayor gave her carte blanche, she apparently can't be faulted, legally, for taking the money. It was he who assigned her to payroll and other duties that were, by all accounts, beyond her capabilities - although she seems to have been capable of taking care of herself.

OK, we get that the state of the village management at the time was pretty pathetic, but still - regardless of whether Ms. McKillip was misled, made an honest mistake or meant to steal - she shouldn't have gotten that extra money. The state comptroller's office audit made that clear. Her payroll duties made her, arguably, the village staff most likely to check the policy manual and see that Lake Placid didn't allow payouts for unused leave time, even if everyone was getting them.

Yet she still has the money. The village and its taxpayers are victims here and have not been made whole.

Also, while McKillip has been thankfully relieved of payroll duties, she is still on the payroll and works daily as the clerk - whether villagers trust her in that capacity or not.

"I love my job," she told the Enterprise. "I'm hoping to be here for a very long time."

Here's the crux: If the board keeps her, she might agree to repay some of the money, but if she's fired, she probably won't. The village would have to sue her to get it, and that would be an uphill battle since Mr. Rogers and others would almost certainly be called to testify about the good old days when Lake Placid employees didn't let policies get in their way. Plus, the village might spend more money on lawyers than it would win back.

Village board members say repayment is crucial - more so than firing Ms. McKillip, Mr. Randall said Thursday. Therefore, while the board chose to lean on her a little by not reappointing her, it hasn't yet advertised for her position.

Now with the criminal investigation out of the way, it looks like she and her lawyer are willing to sit down with the board and negotiate, Mr. Randall said Thursday. The board will try that and hope to work out a settlement for some of the $22,774, he said.

"Frankly, that's probably the best the village could hope for," Mr. Randall said.

They should consider this: If the village only gets back part of that $22,774, is that worth keeping a clerk with this kind of baggage? Maybe they'd be better off firing her.

There's another possibility, too, almost forgettable for its simplicity: Ms. McKillip could do the honorable, ethical thing and give the money back to the taxpayers regardless of whether the board keeps or fires her. It would go a long way toward salvaging her damaged reputation.



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