CHARLES TOWN – A posting on a citizen-driven social media watchdog site last month highlighted a 2013 news report about Jefferson County’s finance director resigning from a past job with the city of Hagerstown over an alleged “misuse of city funds.”
The resignation, as reported by The Herald-Mail newspaper, involved “less than $1,000” and that the city anticipated that the funds involved would be repaid.
No charges were filed in the matter. Michelle Gordon, who then used the surname Burker, declined to comment on the matter at the time.
The Sept. 23 initial posting, and subsequent postings, related to the “explosive” news article and related commentary on the Jefferson County Perspective Facebook page drew a handful of comments and about two dozen “Like.” responses. The group’s page lists more than 3,000 followers.
In addition to the news story, the Perspective posted a flurry of computer screenshots of several court case summaries involving Gordon. In addition to past civil claims of credit card debt, those cases included a 1989 “battery” charge when she was 19 years old to a 2001 child custody case to one involving a 2017 speeding ticket in Shepherdstown.
Some of those documents showed Gordon’s birth date, license plate and Social Security number, information that wouldn’t be available on public documents. Those documents were later taken down and reposted with the personal information redacted.
Gordon declined to comment on the Facebook postings.
No accusation has been made that county money has been mishandled by anyone in the commission’s office.
Responding to two citizens who voiced concerns during a Jefferson County Commission meeting last Thursday, Commissioner Clare Ath said she would ask the commission to hold a special session on the issue.
Ath stated she wants to recommend that an audit be performed on county financial transactions, possibly going as far back as 2016 when Gordon was hired by the county. “The allegations that have been made are highly disturbing, and we on the commission need to get to the bottom of this,” she explained in an email after the meeting.
Reached by phone on Monday, Ath and Commissioner Jane Tabb said the commission hasn’t received any details about what the circumstances might be underlying the cursory dates and descriptions in the court documents.
The commission has scheduled special meeting on the matters scheduled for this Friday at 9:30 a.m.
Who the Perspective group might have obtained such confidential documents hasn’t been publicly disclosed. The personal information on the documents indicates the source—potentially from a county employee or law enforcement official with access to such records—might have deliberately and possibly illegally released documents for the group to post.
Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Harvey said he would not confirm or deny whether any criminal investigation was underway related to the documents.
Gordon has led a financial oversight role for the county commission that has recently generated friction with and resistance from Sheriff Tom Hansen and County Clerk Jacki Shadle.
Ath wouldn’t directly say whether staff with the county commission, sheriff’s department and county clerk’s office were tussling over their financial roles and authorities over county spending. “I think that everyone’s trying to follow the code to the best of their ability, and sometimes disagreements might arise,” she said. “But I think everyone is just trying to do their job.”
Mark Everhart, an active Perspective member, said he knew who sent the documents, but he said he wouldn’t disclose the source.
Perspective received the documents unsolicited, he said.
While he is one of about a half dozen people with passwords to post content to the Perspective social pages, he said, he wouldn’t reveal who posted the documents.
Reached by phone, Everhart said whether documents were released illegally was not a matter for Perspective to consider. He said the purpose of posting the documents was to show a pattern of past behavior by a person currently managing county funds.
He said the chance that county funds could have been mishandled and whether someone illegally released documents related to such a matter are “two separate issues.”
Whether a background check was performed when Gordon was hired for the sensitive position of financial director is a legitimate issue to review, he said. Whether the position of financial director was correctly created a decade ago should also be reviewed, he said.
Except for what the posted documents show, he said he didn’t have any other details about Gordon’s resignation or her encounters with the court system.
Everhart said he’s not interested or concerned for the moment about the motives of anyone or any group that provided the documents. “Not at all,” he said, “and if we got documents that financial impropriety of [another government official or employee] we would probably post those too.”
“It’s not my place to judge where the documents came from,” he said. “I can tell you that any documents that we have … and I spoke to [prosecutor] Matt Harvey about this—… it was just that one document, it has been scrubbed.
“There aren’t documents that I know of that are floating around with her Social Security number on it.”
Everhart said posting the document with the Social Security information was an oversight. The document was taken down when the number was noticed. It was then reposted with the number covered up.
“It was up there for maybe 5 minutes,” he said. “We caught it and it was taken down. We did the redaction. We’re not going to post information of that nature.”
Last year Everhart, from Shepherdstown, abandoned a campaign for a state District 67 delegate seat representing Jefferson County after public court documents were posted about him on Facebook. The documents showed two misdemeanor convictions stemming from a divorce dispute nine years ago in Baltimore County, Maryland.
Running for delegate as a Republican, Everhart accused his liberal Democratic adversaries of spreading false and distorted facts related to his encounter with the court system. “Those of us who run for public office are human beings and running for public office is a commitment that very few people want to undertake because of the extreme scrutiny candidates undergo,” he wrote in a statement announcing his decision to suspend his campaign. “The same qualities that that the far left are willing to accept and even embrace in their own people, they vilify in everyone else.”
Reached by phone Monday, Ath said she received complaints and concerns before last week’s commission meeting about what the Perspective social media site posted. She said she was still seeking more information about the facts that occurred behind them.
“Obviously, we don’t know if anything has happened,” she said. “But we really need to give the impression that we care and we want to make sure nothing has happened, nothing does happen.”
Ath said she would be concerned if confidential documents were purposed released to hinder or stop any county employee from doing their job. “I think transparency is very important,” she said. “If someone had a concern with [Gordon], I think that’s something that should have been brought to the commission, and something that could have been dealt with quite easily.”