Sheriff’s Office releases DHS investigation report into Eau Claire Co. Department of Human Services

Published: May. 30, 2023 at 10:37 AM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE COUNTY, Wis. (WEAU) -The Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office has released its report into the County Department of Human Services.

Three years ago, the Sheriff’s Office began investigating a $1.1 million dollar error in the DHS’ 2019 budget. That error resulted in DHS being more than $3 million over budget for 2019.

The investigation concluded in Dec. of 2022 and was forwarded to the La Crosse County District Attorney.

The more than 500 page report found there were multiple differences and inconsistencies in financial statements from the department. It states DHS disabled safeguards on its software to alert and prevent a budget overage. The report also states staff in the department upgraded airfare and hotel stays when they left town for meetings or trainings, adding there were vendor hotel stays and vendor and staff meals paid for with the Family Crisis Funds.

They also noted DHS does not provide receipts for county-issued purchase card transactions. The report also said there were concerns of extravagant spending by DHS which not only included purchases for clients but also for staff.

The investigation started in May of 2020 after two Eau Claire County Board Supervisors, Mark Beckfield and Steve Chilson, met with the Eau Claire County Sheriff with concerns about the 2019 DHS budget.

“Our concern was based on our knowledge of what was going on and the questions we were asking that should have easily been able to be answered and weren’t,” Chilson said.

Three years later, the report was released to the public.

“Some of the things I’m finding in the report confirm some of the feelings of why Mark and myself initially went to the sheriff to raise concerns,” Chilson said.

Beckfield agreed.

“There’s just more on top of what we already knew. You know, it’s the deception of the county board supervisions is something that’s very, very troubling to me,” Beckfield said.

The investigation adds some staff were told not to speak with law enforcement and were given talking points if they did.

“It really expands everything I was concerned about. It didn’t reduce it or play it down at all, it actually made it greater,” Beckfield said.

As for what will come from this investigation, Beckfield and Chilson said that’s still up in the air.

“29 supervisors have access to this report, should read it, should digest it and come back and make a decision as to what they feel as a body is the proper thing for us to do as the next step,” Chilson said.

In March, DA Tim Grunke agreed that there were issues with DHS regarding some of the accounting records and handling of finances, but ultimately determined not to file criminal charges.

WEAU reached out County Administrator Kathryn Schauf for comment regarding the investigation. She sent the following statement .

Schauf added, “Eau Claire County is committed to continuous improvement. The County will use the thorough review provided by the vonBriesen report for process improvement, and any needed remedial action.”

The full report can be found on the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office website under “DHS Investigation, ECSO report.”