Stokes says he will repay Stallings

Jul. 11, 2013 @ 04:30 PM

Councilman Harry Stokes said he will pay the more than $20,000 he owes Stallings in a lump sum before the month is out.

Accusations of wrongdoing swirled around Stokes when Stallings officials revealed Stokes went 15 months without paying his town-provided insurance premium. The amount totaled $24,741.93.

Stokes said an accounting error caused him to make double payments on his wife’s new Toyota. Town Manager Brian Matthews said the non-payment went unnoticed by town staff until a N.C. Local Government Commission official pointed it out.

“It’s my understanding that, in looking at our records, she found a pretty significant unpaid balance,” Matthews said.

Criticism has been so strident that Stokes said he plans to withdraw the remaining balance owed from his investments and repay the town before the end of July.

“Mr. Matthews and the town attorney wanted some verification, so I showed them the statements where I made double car payments each month,” Stokes said. “I’m trying to do full disclosure.”

Stokes said injuries from a car accident a few weeks ago make it difficult to get around. He missed Monday’s council meeting where Matthews presented a repayment plan to the rest of the council. A majority vote approved a plan for Stokes to pay $1,000 monthly for 11 months and a final balloon payment of the balance on the twelfth month.

Councilman Wyatt Dunn wrote an email after the meeting, blasting the plan and council members who voted for it. He alleged it was an interest-free loan to Stokes at the taxpayer’s expense.

“In my opinion Harry got preferential treatment from his friends on the council because he was a councilman,” Dunn wrote. “This is one of the many reasons voters do not trust elected officials.”

Initially, town staff asked him how he wanted to pay the money back, Stokes said. Early offers were for him to pay $500 monthly. But Stokes said he wanted to let the town decide.

“I did not ask for an interest-free loan,” he said.

Stokes said Dunn’s email was a political move.

“They’re just trying to make me into a villain because Dunn wants to run for mayor,” Stokes said.

Stokes is the only council member with a health insurance policy through the town. An insurance salesman himself, Stokes said he found that a policy through the town for himself and his family cost $1,000 less than one through his company. He assumed bank draft payments of the roughly $1,500 insurance payments began, but confused the amounts with regular car payments. Instead of making payments on both expenses, Stokes said he made double payments to the car dealership.  

Neither his accountants nor the town noticed.

“I’d still like to know how town staff missed that for 15 months,” Stokes said.

The reasons why are complicated, Matthews said. The town collected money for and paid for all employee and council policies out of a single fund.

“There are all kinds of insurance payments continuously going in and out of that account,” Matthews said. “Each month, the town sends one lump sum to the insurance company. Because the account never really balances, it’s never really evident that there’s money missing unless you look at the account’s history over a long amount of time.”

Critics pointed out that Stokes’ payments ended about the time the council approved a 5-year contract extension for Matthews, leading to suggestions Stokes was rewarded for his support of the town manager. Both men deny any such impropriety.

“That is a lie from the pit of hell, as my father used to say,” Stokes said. “That’s absolutely not true.”

Matthews said it was a simple accounting error, not impropriety.