Former Johnstown village manager Sarah Phillips has challenged findings issued by the state auditor that question two expenditures and her volunteer time for the International City Manager's Association that involved travel to Bulgaria and Lebanon.

Former Johnstown village manager Sarah Phillips has challenged findings issued by the state auditor that question two expenditures and her volunteer time for the International City Manager's Association that involved travel to Bulgaria and Lebanon.

Among the items in the auditor's report are a claim that a $103 purchase of a briefcase benefited Phillips, a cash reimbursement of $150 was unexplained and travel reimbursements for overseas travel amounted to nearly $10,000.

Phillips told The Independent she provided an explanation of each item to the auditor's office, but her explanations were not included in the report.

"What is disturbing to me is the auditors initially sent me a copy of their findings, before they ever sent it to the village," Phillips said. "And I assumed that meant they were looking for an explanation, so I immediately called the auditor's office and provided an explanation. But that was not included in anything that was sent to the village, and then as a result of that, these newspaper articles came out.

"That was one thing that was disturbing to me, was why give me the opportunity to explain it if you are essentially not going to listen to it?"

Phillips said the general thrust of her conversation with the auditor was that the village, not the auditor's office, would respond to the findings.

"Even when I called them, their kind of final statement to me was, 'well, it will be up to the village to determine these things,'" Phillips said. "Well, the village has never contacted me. As a result there is misinformation out there about it."

Phillips said she used the briefcase while she was city manager and it was left with the village when she took a new job.

A finding regarding a $150 cash reimbursement was the result of a funding mix-up at an association conference that she attended as village manager.

According to Phillips, she had personally paid a $150 fee to enter a golf tournament at the conference, but when it was canceled because of rain, the sponsor refunded fees via the credit cards used to pay for conference attendance. The result was that the village received $150 due to Phillips.

In her explanation, Phillips said she discussed it with the village finance director and they agreed she would take a $150 cash advance on the village credit card to reimburse her for the personal expense.

As to the reimbursement for international travel, Phillips said her employment contract specifically allowed for her participation and the village council had even recognized her for her work.

"It was not paid by the village or reimbursed by the village," Phillips said. "My employment contract specifically mentions that the village will support me in that and that I'm allowed to do that. There was no question about that through my entire employment with them. It should never have been on the village's books."

Phillips said it is common for civic leaders to participate in many different collaborations and she does not understand why this one would be challenged.

"I think the challenge they put forth is that I had two jobs at one time and was getting paid for both of those jobs at the same time," Phillips said. "But that is certainly not the case.

"I'm not the only city manager in the United States doing this. There are dozens of us doing this," she said. "Part of the reason it works, part of the reason we are able to help developing countries, is we donate time pro bono. Cities across the United States are donating their city managers' time, their engineers' time, whoever's time, to these projects overseas."

Phillips said such volunteering is not only routine, but promoted.

"I would hope we all do volunteer work," she said. "I did volunteer work for Hospice of Ohio while I was there and received mileage reimbursement. Nobody ever talked about that. To me, it's the same principle."

Village administrator Jim Lenner said the questions raised by the auditor are only questions, not determinations that anything was done improperly. He said the questions of whether there is any violation of duties and whether the village would pursue any recovery are in the hands of the village law director and the state attorney general, who are conferring on the auditor's report.

"The auditor is like, 'here are our findings, here you go,' so it's up to us (to determine if there is any violation)," Lenner said.