ELIZABETH - The Wirt County assessor was recently sanctioned by the West Virginia Ethics Commission for misconduct.
The commission imposed sanctions totaling $6,250 on Wirt County Assessor Debbie Hennen for "misconduct that included using public funds for her own personal use," according to a news release from the commission.
Hennen admitted in a conciliation agreement to borrowing public money, on multiple occasions, collected from dog license fees, the release stated.
In the agreement, the commission acknowledges that all monies borrowed by Hennen were reimbursed at the end of each month and that there were no shortages in the Dog Fund when submitted to the sheriff's office.
According to the agreement, Hennen would repay the public funds at the end of each month before the money was turned over to the sheriff. Hennen acknowledged discrepancies in her travel reimbursements and personal use of public equipment and resources in furtherance of her private business, the commission said.
Hennen has agreed to pay for any and all questionable reimbursements discovered by the Ethics Commission for which there is insufficient documentation, officials said.
Hennen used assessor office stamps for her own personal use or for others, including specific mailings for the Wirt County Fair, according to the Ethics Commission. Although no record of the number of stamps was kept, the commission said Hennen did, on occasion, purchase stamps to replace those used from the assessor's office.
Hennen sold Avon products in the courthouse, during public office hours, and used the assessor's office computer and printer for uses outside her job as assessor, the commission said. This included designing and developing brochures for the Wirt County Fair and printing them using the office's copier and working with Wirt County High School athletic booster organizations.
''Hennen acknowledges the use of the equipment and resources, but were community related in nature and were not for her private gain,'' the Ethics Commission said in the agreement. ''She also maintains that she purchased and supplied paper for her various community related projects.''
Because of additional administrative controls, the total reimbursement errors do not exceed $500, the Ethics Commission reported.
''Throughout the commission's investigation, (Hennen) has been cooperative and forthcoming, and has expressed a willingness to correct and avoid any appearance of impropriety which her conduct may have created,'' the Ethics Commission said in the agreement.
Hennen's sanctions included a public reprimand and a fine of $4,000. She agreed to pay the Wirt County Commission $1,000 in reimbursement for the time and resources for her private activities.
She has to pay the Wirt County Assessor's Valuation Fund $500 as reimbursement for errors in travel reimbursements. She has to pay the West Virginia Ethics Commission $750 for the cost of the investigation.
In September 2010, Hennen was found not guilty, on appeal, of falsifying a record, a time sheet, of an employee who worked for her as neither she nor the employee in question received any extra benefit.
Hennen also lost her 16-year-old daughter, Sarah, earlier this year.
In a statement released Wednesday, Hennen said the last several months of her life have been challenging in many ways, one of which ended with her going to court to prove her innocence.
''At the end of the day there was a cost to taxpayers and for that I feel bad,'' she said. ''Now, with new charges levied against me, one of which is relating to volunteer work with nonprofit organizations that are very close to my heart (4-H, Wirt County Fair and the high school volleyball team), I am faced with two choices.
''The first would be to fight the charges and even if the results were the same as last time and I am found innocent, there might be an additional cost (attorney fees) to the community.''
For that reason, Hennen said she decided it was in the best interest of her family and the community to plea bargain, pay the fine, and get on with the business of serving the public, which she was elected to do.
''I would like to thank all those who have stood by me during these times of hardship,'' she said.
She is once again running for her position, unopposed in the November election.
Wirt County Commissioner Robert Lowe said the county commission has not received paperwork from the West Virginia Ethics Commission on this matter and declined to comment until the county commissioners had a chance to review it.