Growing Grassroots Movement Asking for Accountability in Clay County Government

Posted: January 21, 2018 in Uncategorized

Over the last couple of years I’ve become good friends with Jason Withington. Jason’s one of those guys that cares about his community and isn’t afraid to get involved. We need more of those people. They’re often in short demand. 

I’m quite impressed with the work he has done on trying to organize a petition drive to have the Missouri State Auditor audit the county’s finances. It’s becoming abundantly clear that it’s more than just a few of us who are concerned. Below you will find an update on the petition drive from Jason.

If we wish to see an audit of the County, it will require a total of 6,000 signatures. The total cost equates out to little more than $1 per taxpayer.

I have heard some say that an audit is probably a waste of time.

I do not agree.

During the year that I covered the Clay County Commission for TheNorthlandNews.com, I was stunned at the disrespect that was shown to the public both through words and actions. I find it incredibly hard to believe that there’s not something amiss with the County’s finances. And if it turns out that I am wrong, I’m okay with that, too. The cost was little, and the fact that 6,000 people stood up to say I want to know more is a positive. 

For far too long, I’ve seen people not care about what happens at the local level. For those few of us that actually still respect the Constitution and the construction of our Republic, we should care just as much about what happens in that Courthouse, as we do about the idiocy in Washington, D.C. The one major difference, the important difference, is that a lot of times when we get involved at the local level people start to listen and things do change. 

I encourage you to read what Jason has to say below, and if you would, take the time to sign the audit petition. After you’ve signed the petition, consider getting more involved.

Like many Clay County citizens I’m deeply concerned about the state of our current county government.  I can no longer sit idly by and watch.  That is why I contacted the State Auditor’s office last summer to start the petition process to have Auditor Galloway’s office complete a comprehensive performance audit of the entire county government.

After talking with many former elected county officials, the problems at the courthouse aren’t new.  But the problems have become progressively worse since 2012.

Cronyism

Dishonest

Corruption

These are three words many have used to describe the current state of Clay County government.  One state representative even told me the joke at the Missouri House is, “if you think this place is bad, go visit the Clay County Courthouse.”

Since 2012:

Commissioners Luann Ridgeway and Gene Owen were accused of misusing public funds. (1) While the case was eventually dismissed, the judge in his ruling wrote “The Court finds the testimony of Commissioner Luann Ridgeway and [Assistant County Administrator] Nicole Brown not credible.”  (2)

If Ridgeway and Brown appear not credible to a judge in a legal proceeding, how can the citizens of Clay County trust anything they have to say to us?

Last summer an assistant county administrator and administrative staffer were charged with tampering with public documents. (3)

Commissioners Ridgeway and Owen like to hide Commission actions in executive session rather than conduct official county business in the open resulting in complaints being filed with the Missouri Attorney General’s office. (4)

The Kansas City Star reported back in 2015 that The FBI was investigating some of Clay County government’s actions, including the county’s contracting and personnel practices. (5)

Commissioners Ridgeway and Owen recently declared war on the County Sheriff’s office by cutting nearly $1 million from the Sheriff’s budget for 2018.  (6)  Ridgeway and Owen also made cuts to the County Clerk’s office resulting in the loss of employees. The cuts were allegedly in retaliation for the public document tampering charges.

The Clerk notified the Sheriff of the tampering.  The Sheriff then contacted the Attorney General’s office.  The attorney general sent in Missouri state troopers to investigate.

After the state trooper investigation, Commissioners Ridgeway and Owen voted to remove the custodian of records title from the clerk and give it to the county administrator. (7) This is the same county administrator whose salary was recently increased from $102,000 a year to $149,000 a year. A preposterous 44% increase. (8)

Last May, Kansas City Power & Light showed up at the Clay County Annex to disconnect services because the county failed to pay it’s bill on time. To be exact, the county hadn’t paid its bill in over three months. (9)

If county staff can’t pay the light bill on time, can they be trusted to effectively follow appropriate accounting practices?

A state audit is an essential tool to make sure our county operates according to state statutes, and it will go far to help restore the citizen’s faith in county government. Right now there is a growing number of Clay County citizens who are significantly concerned about that government. An audit will open up the County’s books to scrutiny and demonstrate whether County staff is following the rules.

There are far too many of us that have trouble believing that there is not something going on. Even if there’s nothing illicit, the audit will create institutional knowledge about appropriate government accounting practices for current county staff. This will benefit all taxpayers in the long run.

Call 816.472.9200 if you want someone to meet you or come to your home to allow you to sign the petition. You also can download a copy of the petition by clicking here: Audit Petition Signature Form.

We need a total of 6,000 signatures by July 2018

Already nearly 50 current or past public officials from across Clay County have signed the audit petition:

Ryan Silvey, former State Senator

State Rep Lauren Arthur

State Rep Jon Carpenter

State Rep Kevin Corlew

State Rep Mark Ellebracht

State Rep Ken Wilson

State Rep Noel Shull

Mayor Brian Fullmer, Smithville

Mayor Don Stielow, North Kansas City

Mayor R.D. Mallams, Gladstone

Mayor David Slater, Pleasant Valley

Mayor Bill Dane, Kearney

Mayor Pro Tem Bill Garnos, Gladstone

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, Kansas City

Mayor Pro Tem Valerie Pearman, North Kansas City

Councilwoman Heather Hall, Kansas City

Councilman Zachary Clevenger, Noth Kansas City

Councilwoman Carol Suter, Gladstone

Aldermen John Chevalier, Jr., Smithville

Aldermen Bob Arnold, Smithville

Aldermen Melissa Wilson, Smithville

Alderwoman Ruth Mesimer, Pleasant Valley

Councilman Harold A. Phillips, Liberty

Councilman Michael Hagan, LIberty

Councilman Jeff Watt, LIberty

Councilman Fred Steffen, North Kansas City

Judge Brian Klopfenstein, Kearney Municipal Judge

Jay B Lawson, former Clay County Commissioner and Recorder of Deeds

Tom Brown, former Clay County Commissioner

Peggy Shull, former Clay County Commissioner

Craig Porter, former Clay County Commissioner

Debbie Gwin, former Clay County Public Administrator

Sheila Snell Ernzen, former Clay County Auditor

Victor S. Hurlbert, North Kansas City School Board

Matthew Hunt, Kearney Board of Education

D. Scott Connor, Liberty Board of Education

Sarah Mills, Clay County Public Administrator

Paul Vescovo, Clay County Sheriff

Ted Graves, Clay County Treasurer

Jerry Nolte, Clay County Presiding Commissioner

Megan Thompson, Clay County Clerk

Katee Porter, Clay County Recorder of Deeds

Lydia McEvoy, Clay County Collector

Dan White, Clay County Prosecuting Attorney

Kevin McEvoy, Candidate Kansas City Council

Doug Richey, Candidate Missouri House of Representatives

Abby Zavos, Candidate Missouri House of Representatives

Sheri Chapman, former Clay County Clerk

Pam Mason, former Clay County Commissioner

Beverly Sue Ryan, former Clay County Public Administrator

Vic Hurlbert, former Clay County Auditor

SOURCES:

(1) http://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article75389877.html

(2) https://www.courts.mo.gov/fv/c//Judgment_FINAL.pdf?l=SMPDB0001_CT07&di=887459

(3) http://www.mycouriertribune.com/news/county-staff-face-tampering-allegations/article_0e485c37-3ce8-5b8c-b83e-5baa921433b4.html

(4) http://thenorthlandnews.com/musings-missouri-attorney-generals-office-asks-response-clay-county-commission/

(5) http://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article9699248.html

(6) https://www.kshb.com/news/region-missouri/clay-county/clay-co-sheriff-concerned-about-potential-budget-cut

(7) http://www.mycouriertribune.com/news/county-moves-control-of-open-records-requests/article_0c5ae1f6-6818-5bc8-b94f-75acb74bde79.html

(8) http://thenorthlandnews.com/clay-county-administrator-dean-brookshier-2017-salary/

(9) https://www.excelsiorspringsstandard.com/news/clay-county-routinely-facing-late-fees/

 

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