The Greene County Commissioner in southwest Missouri who’s at the center of an email controversy is trying to set the record straight.
Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin appeared to have broken the law by writing emails suggesting public funds be used to promote a 1/2 cent sales tax while urging county employees to campaign for the ballot measure on company time.
Cirtin told Missourinet Springfield news partner KOLR-TV the emails made it clear that any work would be optional and a donation of time.
“(It was) a totally volunteer basis,” sayd Cirtin. “And I made it clear in one of my emails that this has nothing to do with their position in the county. I made that very clear, but not very many people saw those emails.”
Commissioner Cirtin says county money was used on education about the sales tax, which is legal, but not on advocacy, which is illegal. “There was never any county, tax payer money spent on advocacy. It was all spent on education.”
Attorney Eddie Greim, from the private company hired to investigate the case, told KOLR that the actions of Commissioner Cirtin were legal. “Under Missouri law, the county is able to spend money to educate about the ballot measure,” Greim said. “County officials are able to issue press releases. And they are actually able to advocate for this.”
Greim works for the Kansas City bases Graves Garrett law firm, which has heavy ties to the Republican Party. Lead partner Todd Graves chairs Missouri’s Republican Party.
State Auditor Nicole Galloway is the lone Democrat to hold a statewide office. She has urged Greene County to give her authority to conduct an independent audit of its activity related to the sales tax measure.
Galoway contends a private law firm would not be required to make information public and would only be obligated to represent its client – the commission.
For his part, Cirtin told KOLR that one of one of his emails, in which he advised against holding an open meeting with media presence, was poorly worded. “I think I would have been more careful in how I wrote it. The part about the news media, I regret putting that in there,” says Cirtin.
Cirtin told KOLR that the commission chose a private law firm instead of a public audit because the county’s attorney recommended it , partially because it’s cheaper. He also said they aren’t ruling out using the state auditor.
Allegations of misuse of taxpayers money to promote the sales tax measure first surfaced early this month. Galloway said her office received a complaint through a whistle-blower hotline, and upon an initial review, she has determined the allegations are credible.
The ballot measure for the 1/2 cents sales tax hike passed in Greene County by a nearly 60% margin in early November.