A petition drive to force an audit of southwest Missouri’s Greene County is rolling along as its top commissioner faces competition for reelection.
Almost 1,000 signatures have been gathered to authorize state Auditor Nicole Galloway to examine records after allegations county officials misused public money to promote a sales tax. Nearly 5,500 more signatures are needed over the next 10 months for the audit to be sanctioned.
A two-thirds majority of the three-person county commissioner, led by Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin have rejected repeated offers by Galloway to review records. They’ve instead chosen to support a more narrowly focused state Ethics Commission audit, saying Galloway doesn’t have jurisdiction over the issue in question.
The commission also released a statement in January claiming Galloway was trying to meddle with the Ethics Commission probe while failing to provide the county with information about her own audit. Galloway began offering to perform an audit of the sales tax campaign after her office started receiving whistleblower complaints late last year.
After Greene County officials submitted a sunshine request to obtain records from her office, Galloway told Missourinet that the county commission was trying to find out the identity of the whistleblowers through its action. The state auditor is bound by law to protect the identities of whistleblowers.
But her office still released information in response to the Sunshine request from the Greene County Sheriff’s Office that contained details about the original whistleblower complaint.
The News-Leader reported the Sunshine request revealed former county spokeswoman Trysta Herzog was the whistleblower. She alleged that she “faced nearly daily coercion … from Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin to participate in political activities as part of (her) job.”
Emails obtained by the newspaper show that she repeatedly clashed with Cirtin when he asked her to do things related to the sales tax.
The News-Leader also reports former Greene County Presiding Commissioner Jim Viebrock, who’s been highly critical of Cirtin, is helping to lead the audit petition campaign.
“The petition needs to stay alive,” Viebrock said. “If, for some reason, Bob Cirtin is allowed to continue on as presiding commissioner, citizens are going to be kept left in the dark on what’s being done with their taxpayer dollars.”
If the petition drive is successful, the auditor’s office would conduct a thorough investigation of Greene County departments and offices. The News-Leader reports such an inquiry would cost the county $150,000-$200,000.
In the unlikely event that the county was to allow Galloway to conduct an audit in the near term, it would be more narrowly focused on the whistleblower complaints she received.
Meanwhile, Cirtin is facing a growing list of challengers to replace him as Presiding Commissioner. According to the News-Leader, Viebrock and current Springfield City Council member Kristy Fulnecky are considering a run against Cirtin in this year’s election. They would join three already announced candidates in the race. Those candidates include outgoing Republican State Senator Bob Dixon of Springfield, who is term-limited, and former Democratic state lawmaker Sara Lampe.
Misourinet media partner KOLR-TV contributed to this report