Authorities have decided not to prosecute Lake Placid Village Clerk Katherine "Kook" McKillip for the alleged embezzlement of local government funds.
"Our office didn't feel that we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime had occurred."
That's Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne. He was tapped to handle the case after the Essex County DA's office reported a conflict of interest.
The decision is expected to clear McKillip of criminal charges for taking nearly $23,000 from the village.
She also compensated herself and other employees for unused vacation time in spite of a village policy against it. Champagne said it was a practice that had been tacitly condoned by past boards.
The charges stem from a recent audit conducted by the state Comptroller's Office covering the years 2008 and 2009, a period when McKillip was solely responsible for payroll.
But Champagne said it would be difficult to prove that McKillip knew she was acting improperly. He noted that payroll duties went beyond the scope of her training.
"In light of the fact that she was being asked to do essentially two different jobs; in light of the fact that the [village didn't have proper accounting] procedures in place, we did not feel that we could prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt," Champagne said. "That was also based on conversations with potential witnesses who would not have been able to testify that they didn't approve some the payments in lieu of vacation or overtime."
The potential witnesses included former Mayor Jamie Rogers, who was in office when the withdrawals took place.
An Essex County judge still has to rule to uphold the DA's recommendation, something village officials say they expect to happen soon.
Craig Randall is mayor of the village of Lake Placid. He said the DA's decision makes it plausible that McKillip could remain as clerk. But he said the misappropriated funds must be returned.
"Ms. McKillip had indicated that if there were funds due the village she would make that settlement," Randall said. He added that if that failed, the village could file a civil suit to attempt to recover the funds.
The other thing Randall said he wants is an explanation.
"Frankly one of the things I am looking for here is for the clerk to step up to the plate and say, 'this is my explanation.'"
If the board isn't satisfied, Randall said it could decide to appoint another clerk.
"If we don't get a satisfactory conclusion here I still have the opportunity to either reappoint her or appoint someone else," Randall said. "I'll keep that opportunity until we're satisfied that we've concluded this."
Randall acknowledged that village government is partly to blame for the fiasco. He pointed to lax oversight as the main culprit.
Now he's focused on making sure protocols are put in place that prevent a similar mishap from happening again.
"It's up to this board and this mayor to put in place policies and to put the right people in the right positions to make sure this does not happen again," Randall said. "It goes beyond the clerk."
Randall said those measures include a plan to hire an independent auditor and an assistant accountant to help keep the village's fiscal house in order.