Warren County Attorney Martin Auffredou discusses with the media a pending plea deal endorsed Dec. 22 that grants Social Services Commissioner Shiela Weaver, who was arrested in August, about $59,000 in unearned pay -- and eventual dismissal of the charges against her if she says out of trouble.
Embattled Warren County Social Service Commissioner Sheila Weaver, accused of illegally applying for welfare benefits for her boyfriend, will be paid her $79,184 salary through May – despite the fact she hasn't been working in her county post since she was arrested Aug. 5 – in a plea deal that calls for her to reisgn Jan. 18 and eventually be cleared of all criminal charges if she stays out of trouble.
The Warren County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Thursday Dec. 22 to approve the plea deal. She was charged with Official Misconduct, two felony counts of second-degree Forgery, and two counts of second-degree Offering a False Instrument for Filing.
Just days after her arrest, she filed a discrimination complaint with the state Human Rights Division, accusing the county of discriminating against her because of her claimed Native American heritage.
The plea deal approved Dec. 22 calls for her to abandon this complaint and bars her from any other legal action against the county concerning her employment – in exchange for an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal on the criminal charges.
Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, who is prosecuting the criminal charges against Weaver, said this week he had offered the six-month adjournment because the case was weak.
In the plea deal, Weaver admitted under oath Dec. 19 that she had violated the county Department of Social Services policy and Code of Ethics by acting as Michael Hester's representative on his application for public assistance while she was serving as commissioner.
County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Stec said he was anticipating public criticism of the deal.
I know people are frustrated we've been paying someone to not work,” he said. “But a settlement like this removes the uncertainty – We're trying to do the best we can to represent the interests of the citizens of our county.”
Stec said that without the settlement agreement, the county could lose the case and face financial liability.
He said the extensive provisions of the plea deal, including the extension of her pay through May, were partially due to the state's legal protections granted to commissioners. By this summer, Weaver will have been paid about $59,000 in salary while she was not working for the county.
He said that the legal process, which included hearings on her conduct, had to be followed.
“There is a process in place for government to act, and that process takes time,” he said.
Stec added that the situation with Weaver demonstrated the need for a more thorough vetting process in hiring county commissioners.
The allegations and arrest came as a shock because Weaver had played a key role in rooting out fraudulent welfare applications, instituted new standards for employees, and worked to slash costs and consolidate the bureaucracy of the Social Services Department. In doing so, she irritated many of the department employees.
Kevin Conine, the investigator she and county District Attorney Kate Hogan put in place to root out welfare fraud, arrested Weaver on Aug. 5. Weaver has been Commissioner of Social Services for 2 & ½ years.
Former Deputy Commissioner Suzanne Wheeler was named acting Commissioner of Social Services at the time of Weaver's arrest.
County Attorney Martin Auffredou said the plea deal made sense under the circumstances.
“We hope the county can get back to work and move forward,” he said. “This brings to close a very unfortunate and sad chapter in the history of the county.”