Barnes aide criticizes Hickman

January 13, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

The election's been over for months, but don't tell that to DTC State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes or the 20-year incumbent he trounced at the polls.

For much of the week, Mr. Barnes' administrative deputy has publicly complained about the sloppy accounting, inaccurate budgets and mishandled records allegedly left by Thomas E. Hickman and his staff when they departed Jan. 3.

Saying that her boss is interested only in bringing "fiscal accountability" back to the prosecutor's office, Marcie S. Wogan has announced that the county commissioners will conduct an audit of the previous administration's performance and finances. She also said Mr. Barnes wants an explanation of an unpaid $20,000 loan the office took from the county commissioners two years ago.

"This isn't about politics, it's about running this office like a business," Ms. Wogan said yesterday. "The concept of a fiscally autonomous state's attorney's office is over."

Mr. Hickman -- now in a Westminster-based law practice with his former deputy, Edward M. Ulsch, and Carroll attorney Kenneth Holniker -- dismissed Ms. Wogan's accusations.

Mr. Hickman said he wonders why after winning the election, Mr. Barnes' administration would still "be playing politics. . . . These people have old axes to grind."

Among the most serious allegations leveled this week were:

* That Mr. Hickman allowed his top assistants to maintain different accountings of their work hours. One set, Ms. Wogan said, was submitted to the county personnel office, and the other set -- which included supposed overtime worked -- was maintained in the state's attorney's office.

The issue surfaced, Ms. Wogan said, when she and Mr. Barnes learned that two of Mr. Hickman's longtime assistant attorneys requested pay from the county for uncompensated hours that totaled in the "five figures."

Most of the hours, Ms. Wogan said, were undocumented on the attorneys' official time sheets, but rather on the internal records kept in the office.

Calculation is accepted

Both of the assistants -- Mr. Ulsch and former Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill -- have accepted the county's calculation of the amount of compensatory time and unused annual leave for which they will be paid, Mr. Ulsch said.

A county personnel official declined to reveal the amount of the payouts. At the time they resigned, Mr. Ulsch's salary was $61,400 and Ms. Hill's was $47,000.

Mr. Ulsch and Mr. Hickman acknowledged the two sets of records; they insist it was begun about five years ago when workers in the state's attorney's office were placed under county personnel policy which sets a 75-hour limit on unused compensation time.

The internal records, Mr. Hickman said, allowed his attorneys to take off days without using vacation time or sick time.

"Our people worked hard, and, if there was a trial, they were expected to be here around the clock, on weekends, at night. If they worked hard for me, I would accommodate emergencies or changes in their schedules."

* That Mr. Hickman's staff overspent portions of the budget and, in the last month, failed to pay the office's bills.

County budget documents reveal that, as of Dec. 31 -- halfway through the office's fiscal year -- some categories in the budget were running a deficit. Mr. Hickman's staff had spent the year's $4,500 postal budget, as well as exceeded the budgets for legal fees and consultant expenses.

Some areas are underspent

But in other areas -- such as extradition costs and computer hardware -- the staff had spent less than half of the annual allotment.

And, of the $1.053 million budgeted for the fiscal year, $526,000 -- 49.9 percent -- remained unspent at the end of last month.

"To say that I just stacked bills or destroyed them in an attempt to sabotage them is ridiculous," said Jill S. Bachman, Mr. Hickman's office manager for 17 years, who Mr. Barnes fired Dec. 22. "There was absolutely no reason to sabotage them in any way."

* That Mr. Hickman and his staff failed to submit a proposed budget for the next fiscal year by the end of last month, the deadline imposed on all county agencies by budget officials.

Documentation said missing

Ms. Wogan -- who was granted until Monday to submit a proposed budget -- said she has been trying to start the process from scratch. She said that Ms. Bachman left no "supporting documentation" and that she and others on Mr. Hickman's staff failed to assist her in preparing a budget.

Ms. Bachman said she was working on a budget -- she met at least once with Ms. Wogan -- but that she decided not to finish one after Mr. Barnes fired her on Dec. 22.

"I can't believe they say I was uncooperative. I left them everything I had," Ms. Bachman said.

Steven D. Powell, the county's budget director, said that the delay in budgets from the state's attorneys office will make "no difference" in the agency's ability to argue for funding.

* That Mr. Hickman wrongly took out a $20,000 "loan" from the county commissioners in 1992 to set up the Child Abuse and Sexual Assault unit. Despite promises to pay back the money with proceeds from fund-raisers, only $275 has been credited to the loan in the last 24 months.

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