County Commissioners face angry residents over charges of fraud, abuse
Scott Adler admits that he gave the order to spend taxpayer dollars to pave his driveway.
PHILIPSBURG - After more than an hour of residents peppering county commissioners with questions about an alleged fraudulent use of tax-payer dollars , the entire controversy came down to a single statement from second-term commissioner Scott Adler.
"It was me."
Adler's declaration in response to a question posed by QSPNLive narrowed the focus of responsibility for what many of those in attendance see as an abuse of power by Granite County Commissioners.
The charges center around Adler receiving what amounts to a paved driveway by the county, having used county resources and manpower to complete the job. Images taken by residents and neighbors show several large work vehicles on Adler's property during what Adler and fellow commissioner Bill Slaughter describe as the test of a millings mulcher.
Residents began complaining to QSPNLive and other county officials soon after. As the accusations were being investigated, the Granite County Commissioners released a statement through several local media outlets that apologized for the indiscretion and promised to never do it again.
For many of the residents in attendance at Tuesday's regularly scheduled meeting, that apology was not nearly enough.
After wading through some road issues and public comment on a land transfer between the DNRC and the Marletto family, discussion of the fraud charges was scheduled to start at 11 a.m. The room was filled to capacity as residents started asking questions and demanding that some kind of action be taken by the commissioners upon themselves.
"If Commissioner Adler did this stuff in front of everybody and it was gonna be OK," said Dan Villa, one of the three residents who got the discussion added to the Commissioner's weekly agenda. "But he got caught (and) so now he's facing this, what else may have been done? Maybe the Attorney General should check into that."
Villa went on to ask if any of the residents in Granite County could take county equipment, use it and only pay for it if they get caught doing so. "It's not breaking the law I guess," he added. "Maybe the county employees should be questioned by the Attorney General, in person, so he can get the information of all the stuff that has been done."
There were several calls for the immediate resignation of Adler and Slaughter, with several saying they felt that an indictment was also merited.
Lawrence Nelson brought up a point regarding the continued use of the millings in other venues, even though last week Adler had essentially labeled them a complete failure. Nelson noted that they had been used on roads near the Parke and Verlanic ranches as well as in Maxville. Slaughter debated that issue, saying the millings used in Maxville were from a different pile than the ones used on Adler's property. Nelson, however, said he had talked to a witness that said the same millings that went to Adler's property had gone to Maxville.
Slaughter explained there were two piles of millings and that pile at the south end of the site had been used for Maxville, not the pile at the north end. Nelson sternly contradicted that statement.
"Bill, I watched your loader run it (millings on the north end) through a grizzly," Nelson stated, "and run it up to Maxville. ... I guess I just don't understand why you needed to do a test when it had already been used."
Midway into the session, Andy Weaver stood to speak in defense of the actions of the commission.
"I know a little bit about millings and a little bit about road work," said Weaver. "I've been around a bit. Seems to me you take millings out and put them on a public road and get sued for $42,000, why would you want to take the risk of puttin' them out again somewhere and being sued. If ya got someone who wants to take 'em, get 'em out of there. I'd say get rid of 'em."
Weaver also stood to speak on two other occasions, supporting Adler's claim that the millings were of poor quality and that he wouldn't want them on any of his roads.
The lawsuit that Weaver eluded to is one where Granite County put some millings on a road north of Philipsburg and was sued by a property owner when residue from the millings drained off during a rainstorm and killed at least one tree on a resident's property.
Susie Browning then directed questions at Adler, asking specifically what county equipment and what employees were involved in project. Adler listed four county employees (Jim, Kyle, Brad & Nick) and five pieces of the county's heavy equipment that included a tractor, mulcher, one water truck, a roller and a bulldozer.
But in an interview with QSPNLive last week, Adler contradicted himself when he stated, "There were three pieces of equipment that weren't even the county's. The only piece of equipment that was out (that belonged to Granite County) was the roller. It was too wide for my driveway and rolled right over my phone box."
When Browning continued, she asked Adler about any previous incidents of county equipment being used for personal projects.
"Is this the first time that you have used a piece of county equipment," asked Browning.
"No," replied Adler. "I've used stuff around my shop unloading stuff, same as... Oh, I'm not... You know, right there where I have my shop. I've used a loader to help unload heavy stuff."
"So you've used county equipment for personal use," said Browning.
"Yes," replied Adler.
While the majority of speakers were clearly concerned and upset with the actions of the commissioners, Matt Piippo spoke in favor Adler's overall behavior near the meeting's end. Adler had reached out to the Drummond High School CloseUp club to help with a branch and brush removal on Rock Creek Road. The club was able to do the work needed by the county so that it could be properly plowed during the winter, earning $2,000 for their annual trip to Washington, D.C. The payment to the club saved Granite County approximately $2,500 over hiring a professional firm from Missoula.
Attendees also asked about the cost for the work that was done and a bill was circulated to the crowd that showed a total of $1,450 that was paid by Adler. Several people contested the amount, citing amounts for wages, benefits and work comp for four employees and a supervisor, not to mention the county's heavy equipment and millings.
When asked about the time it took to actually do the project, Adler said it was approximately five hours.
Several Granite County residents and neighbors disagree with that estimate. One resident said that 10 deliveries of belly trucks were taken to Adler's home on September 6, with work starting at approximately 9:30 in the morning and ending around 4 p.m. The following day, September 7, the crew was back at it for another four hours to complete the job, according to a neighbor.
Just before the session broke, several attendees asked Granite County Attorney Blaine Bradshaw for a copy of the letter that he sent to Brant Light of Montana's Attorney General's Office, requesting that they look into the matter at hand and determine if an investigation is warranted. Bradshaw said that he didn't think that the document was public, although attendees pointed out that it was about public employees using public money.
The meeting lasted a little over an hour and the commissioners thanked those in attendance for their participation.
NOTE - This story originally ran on QSPNLive.com October 3, 2017.