Sievers '10 criticized for work as treasurer

by Rebecca Cress | 2/16/09 3:44am

Grafton County treasurer Vanessa Sievers '10 is facing criticism from the county's executive director, who claims that Sievers has not maintained her intially high level of performance. The county's elected officials had rallied around Sievers when she first took office in January.

"I'm not sure what happened," Julie Clough, the executive director, said in an interview.

One of Sievers' first responsibilities upon taking office was to reinvest $11 million that former treasurer Carol Elliott had temporarily set aside during the transition period between treasurers. Sievers could have reinvested those funds as early as Jan. 22, provided her reinvestment plan was approved by the county commissioners, according to Clough.

Sievers, in an interview with The Dartmouth, said she temporarily moved the funds into a money market account on Friday, pending approval from the commissioners for a more long-term investment plan. The funds had been in a Woodsville Guaranty Savings Bank checking account where they were accruing a quarter of a percent interest. The money market account has an interest rate of 1.49 percent.

"I don't really know why it's taken us so long to get that done," Clough said. "I don't want to seem like I'm negative, but I'm concerned that our money has not gotten invested in three weeks, and I want to take care of that."

While Sievers said she plans to keep some of the funds in money market accounts, the remainder will be placed into six-month "CDAR accounts" earning as much as 2.35 percent interest once the plan is approved.

"The money is in a good place right now," Sievers said.

Sievers attributed the delay in approving the long-term investment plan to a miscommunication, explaining that she was told by Clough that a draft of the plan was "good to go." The county commissioners, however, did not approve Sievers' budget plan at a meeting last Tuesday.

Clough and the commissioners informed Sievers after the meeting that the plan needed to be changed, Sievers said.

"I thought everything was going well," she said. "I had a plan in place."

Sievers said the plan likely was not approved because she had failed to note that the investments would be collateralized, or insured with collateral by the banks where she would deposit them.

Clough said the county lost potential revenue as a result of the delay in reinvestment. If the $11 million had been invested elsewhere, the county could have made an additional $300 per day, Clough said.

"We're losing what we could be making in interest," she said.

Clough also said that Sievers has not been spending enough time in her office in the Grafton County Complex, saying that Sievers has only come to the office three times in the past five weeks.

"That creates a little bit of an issue for us," Clough said.

Although Sievers holds several jobs on campus in addition to her position as treasurer, she said she does not think her other commitments impede her ability to work effectively.

Sievers said she is only required to go to the Grafton County Complex once a week and that she makes herself available when she is not in the office.

Sievers said she relies more heavily on e-mail than other Grafton County officers, who are more likely to discuss matters over the phone. This may have contributed to the confusion, Sievers said.

"I guess at Dartmouth we use e-mail a lot more than other people, and I've gotten used to that as my primary means of communication," Sievers said. "That may have been a little bit of a problem."

While Sievers said she wishes she had been able to communicate more with the other elected officials "from the get-go," she said she thinks the difficulties are being resolved. Sievers added that she is beginning to understand what the other officials want and expect.

Sievers has received a great deal of encouragement, Clough said, both in general and specifically regarding the reinvestment of the $11 million.

"We're working on it, but we're not there yet," Clough said.

Sievers, running on the Democratic ticket, defeated Elliot, the Republican incumbent, by a margin of 586 votes in November, according to data released by the Office of the New Hampshire Secretary of State. Sievers fared particularly well in Grafton County's college towns, Hanover and Plymouth, which is Elliott's hometown.

Her race made national headlines after Elliott called Sievers a "teenybopper" who won her seat solely based on support from "brainwashed" college students in a November interview with the Valley News.

Sievers, in a previous interview with The Dartmouth, said that she had nothing against Elliott personally, but wanted to bring the role of county treasurer to a new level.

"I decided to run for Grafton County Treasurer because secure finances are an integral part to the workings of every community, and I believe building and managing Grafton's finances is the most important job I could do," Sievers said. "Involvement in local politics is something I plan on doing my whole life."