Taxpayers in southwest Missouri’s Greene County could be on the hook for $25,000 in legal fees for an outgoing county commissioner.
The Springfield News-Leader recently examined invoices from a private attorney hired by Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin to represent him during an investigation by the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Last August, the Greene county commission was fined $100 for not disclosing who paid for an educational pamphlet about a sales tax ballot measure last November. Cirtin claims the attorney fees are a result of “frivolous and unfounded” complaints to the ethics commission in which no wrongdoing was found. He also said that asking an employer to pay for legal fees incurred on the job is common practice.
If the new fees are approved, it would bring the total amount of money taxpayers will have to pay from the incident to more than $300,000.
Cirtin, a Republican, was defeated in his primary run for reelection after the county was billed $267,000 in legal fees to fend off the ethics commission investigation and Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway’s demand for her office to conduct a probe.
Galloway had received a string of whistleblower complaints that Cirtin had misused county funds to promote a half-cent sales tax ballot measure. Cirtin and Galloway exchanged antagonistic public remarks as the two sparred over whether her office could properly investigate the county.
KOLR-TV reports that Greene County Commissioner Lincoln Hough has identified additional legal fees tied to the sales tax controversy. Hough says billing for an unknown amount will be coming for services of the county counselor.
Greene County doesn’t have an attorney on staff, but instead contracts with the St. Louis law firm Lowther and Johnson for legal opinions. Hough said he also hired a private attorney but is not asking taxpayers to foot the bill.
Hough has thrown his hat into the race for the southwest Missouri state Senate seat being vacated by term-limited Republican Bob Wasson of Nixa. The district includes Christian and parts of Greene County.
Hough, also a Republican, has been highly critical of Cirtin’s handling of the sales tax entanglement. He objected to the hiring of a law firm to represent the county and actively lobbied to have Galloway conduct an investigation at no cost into misuse of county funds.
At the time Hough announced his candidacy for the state Senate in June of 2017, Cirtin endorsed him as a someone who could help then-Governor Eric Greitens implement his agenda.
Cirtin was defeated in the primary by outgoing GOP state Sen. Bob Dixon of Springfield. Dixon crushed Cirtin by a more than 2-to-1 margin after campaigning heavily on the sales tax controversy.
Despite losing badly to Dixon in a cloud of controversy, Cirtin is credited in some circles for achieving a career accomplishment with the passage of the half-cent sales tax. The measure, which was approved by a nearly 60% margin, is projected to raise $28.6 million in 2019 and increase by 2% every year after.
The money is expected to be used to address problems such as an overcrowded county jail and a challenged criminal justice system.
(Missourinet media partner KOLR-TV and Missourinet reporter Jason Taylor contributed content to this report)