Attorneys representing Greene County Commissioners in Southwest Missouri have been working with the state Ethics Commission in an investigation over whether the county commission misused public funds for an election campaign.
The county’s Kansas City based law firm is providing the ethics commission with documentation as it pertains to the probe.
Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin said the firm, Graves-Garrett, acted swiftly once the county offered its trove of emails.
“Our attorney from the very beginning when we first hired them contacted our IT department and basically froze every email to where no email could be deleted, could be misplaced, and so all of that information is secure,” Cirtin told KOLR TV.
Cirtin notes the county is no longer using its attorneys to lead the investigation into whether county resources were misused to promote a half-cent sales tax. He says they’re instead helping the Ethics Commission with its probe.
“What we’re asking them to do, our attorneys is to assist the ethics commission in any way they can to provide any document, to provide any witness, they will be doing interviews,” said Cirtin to KOLR.
The half-cent sales tax passed in November’s election by a 60% margin. A portion of the money would be applied to the county jail.
Commissioner Cirtin and Sheriff Jim Arnott have rejected a call by State Auditor Nicole Galloway for her office to conduct an independent investigation. Galloway started asking for permission after she received whistleblower complaints about misuse of funds.
The News-Leader newspaper reported on January 9th that the auditors office had received 21 complaints after Galloway announced a single accusation had been filed on December 6th.
Cirtin contends the Ethics Commission is empowered to conduct the probe, not the auditor. “It’s outside their jurisdiction as far as the type of investigation that needs to be done,” says Cirtin.
The commission release a statement yesterday in which it criticized Galloway for trying to meddle in the Ethics Commission investigation, while failing to provide the county with information about her own audit.
“Unfortunately, the State Auditor apparently planned her own auxiliary investigation of the same allegations without first contacting the Ethics Commission,” said the release, which was not signed. “She also issued numerous statements through the media while refusing to provide adequate information to Greene County about the scope of the auxiliary investigation she planned to conduct.”
The release said Galloway could not provide any examples of audits she’d conducted pertaining to campaign finance issue such as the one in question. The statement also claimed any investigation performed by the auditor would only be referred back to the state agencies that have jurisdiction over the matter, including the Ethics Commission.
Cirtin indicated to KOLR that the county would live with whatever conclusion the ethics probe comes up with. “I believe the Ethics Commission can assess penalties, or if a crime has been occurred, then they can refer it to Missouri attorney general,” says Cirtin.
Galloway released a statement Tuesday, which reads in part, “There is no stepping back from my role as state auditor to expose government corruption, waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. That is distinctly different from the role of the Missouri Ethics Commission in this matter, which looks into violations of campaign finance laws, not abuse and misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
Commissioner Cirtin has complained that Galloway’s office has refused to share any of the whistleblower complaints, even with personal information redacted. Galloway told Missourinet January 8th that the county commission was trying to find out the identity of the whistleblowers through its action.
“I have a duty to protect whistleblowers under the law,” said Galloway. “If the whistleblower complaints themselves would identify the who the whistleblower is, we have a duty to protect that information.”
Two of the three Greene County Commissioners, Cirtin and Harold Bengsch, are in agreement over the current direction of the investigation. The third commissioner, Lincoln Hough, has been a vocal critic of the action taken so far and believes Galloway should conduct a full audit. Hough told the News-Leader that he was not thoroughly briefed on the contents of the Tuesday release, which was issued by Cirtin.
Missourinet media partner KOLR TV contributed content for this story