Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott is suing Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway. The lawsuit cites Galloway for declining to release whistleblower complaints that allege public funds were misused to promote a 1/2-cent sales tax.
The News-Leader reports Galloway claims a legal obligation requires her office to keep whistleblower identities confidential. Arnott’s suit argues Galloway is required by state law to reveal the complaints, with or without the names of the people making them.
The sheriff’s attorney, Pat Keck, told the News-Leader that Missouri Sunshine Law requires Galloway to provide the complaints — either with identifying information redacted or through a description of what the withheld documents contain.
Keck cited a state statute to the newspaper that requires the auditor to separate exempt and nonexempt material, then publicly release nonexempt documents. If separation is “not readily apparent,” then the auditor must “generally describe the material exempted unless that description would reveal the contents of the exempt information and thus defeat the purpose of the exemption,” Keck told the News-Leader.
In an emailed statement to the newspaper, a spokesperson for auditor Galloway’s office said the lawsuit “appears to be an effort to discover the identities of whistleblowers in Greene County, which we have a duty to protect.”
Last month, Galloway criticized a move by the Greene County Commission to hire a private law firm to look into the alleged misuse of public funds.
The law firm hired by the commission, Graves Garrett Attorneys from Kansas City, has strong ties to the Republican Party. Partner Todd Graves is chairman of the Missouri Republican Party. His brother, GOP Congressman Sam Grave, represents Missouri’s 6th District. State Auditor Galloway is the only Democrat, outside of U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, to currently hold state office.
In early December, Galloway announced her office received a tip on its Whistle-blower Hotline, claiming that some county employees were asked to perform duties on behalf of a political action committee that supported the tax measure.
State law prohibits the contribution or expenditure of public funds to support or oppose any ballot measure or candidate for public office.
One of the three Green County Commissioners, Lincoln Hough, has repeatedly asked for an independent investigation by Galloway’s office into the allegations.
A citizens petition was launched late last month in support of an examination by Galloway, who has offered to audit the county for free.
The 1/2-cent sales tax passed by a 59.74% margin. The Green County website said it would raise an estimated $26 million per year. The money would be used to help the County expand its jail (which is run by the sheriff’s department), implement services to reduce jail population growth, reinstate Animal Control, meet environmental funding needs and provide financial assistance to municipalities.