County needs an independent review of investment mess

How the investment fund debacle involving Columbiana County occurred is difficult to understand for those not well-versed in the world of finance.

Current county Treasurer Linda Bolon discovered that two funds had been invested illegally following a review of the investment account, which she initiated upon taking office in January. Bolon had been told by former county Treasurer Nick Barborak of a discrepancy in investment records that he was unable to resolve before leaving office in January to begin serving as the county’s state representative.

The discrepancy was due to the way interest income was being reported to Barborak by WesBanco. The investment firm was hired in March 2010 after the investment board authorized Barborak to negotiate a contract with First National Community Bank to invest $5 million in county funds through WesBanco.

Although no money is missing, Bolon concluded the problem resulted in interest income being overstated by $118,779.

Investment problems are not new to this county, but this situation doesn’t appear to be anything comparable to the Strabala investment scandal that rocked the county more than 20 years ago. Then, former Treasurer Ardel Strabala illegally invested county funds through his son, resulting in a $6 million loss to the county and prison terms for both Strabalas.

Meanwhile, GOP Chairman David Johnson has filed a public records request with Bolon, seeking copies of investment records and emails. Barborak and Bolon are Democrats. The three commissioners are Republicans.

Johnson has also called for an independent investigation into the controversy and we agree that this would be the best route.

This is already becoming political and that’s to be expected when public money is involved. Probably the quickest way to straighten out this mess would be to appoint an independent auditor to the case. And the sooner, the better.