HAMILTON, Mont. - Ravalli County commissioners took advice from their county attorney to "proceed with caution," and made no move Thursday to file official misconduct charges against embattled Treasurer Valerie Stamey.
Commissioners met with the county attorney about an investigation, finding no evidence in Stamey's allegations against other county officials, or of wrongdoing in the treasurer's office.
The county attorney is waiting for information from an independent audit.
So, for now, Stamey remains on paid administrative leave.
The question was whether to remove Stamey from office, and possibly file official misconduct charges against her.
The board approved a lawsuit against the treasurer for failing to get financial reports out on time. That lawsuit has yet to be filed.
Commissioners wanted perspective from County Attorney Bill Fulbright on the still incomplete audit, and the investigation that found little merit in Stamey's allegations. Fulbright advised prudence and caution.
"To jump in and say that answers all questions," he said, "I don't think it answers all the questions until we have answers from the auditing firm."
Fulbright recognized public frustration at the mounting expense of keeping the treasurer, and of investigation costs that have now risen to $50,000.
Commissioners Jeff Burrows, Greg Chilcott and J.R. Iman expressed frustration. But in the end they took no action. They all have said it was a mistake to appoint Stamey.
"There isn't anybody in their life who hasn't taken a dose of dumb," said commissioner Iman, "but we don't want to be stupid."
But many who attended Thursday's public hearing said there is enough evidence to file the lawsuit, stop paying Stamey, and remove her from her appointed office.
"Were the duties being neglected?" asked Bitterroot Star newspaper owner Michael Howell. "Yes," he said. "Is that legal? No."
"Don't put things off like a bad toothache," said Hamilton resident Ren Cleveland.
Stamey said she is working with Mary Hudson Smith, the elected treasurer, who quit her job after two months in office.
Stamey said they both suffered intimidation and sabotage in office. Workers in the treasuer's office dispute those charges.
So far, Ravalli County has paid Stamey $10,000 in wages, spent $14,000 on a retired treasurer from Beaverhead County to get the office back in order, and $1,300 in overtime and additional hires during the crisis.