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Judge ends Clay County’s attempt to block auditor’s executive session minutes request

A  judge has permanently dismissed a lawsuit attempting to block the state auditor’s request for executive session minutes amid an ongoing audit.

Cole County Judge Jon Beetem dismissed with prejudice Clay County Commissions’ legal challenge against state Auditor Nicole Galloway and her office on Thursday. 

The two entities butted heads over a specific information request for the Clay County Commissioners’ executive session minutes. When the requested records were not turned over, the state auditor issued a subpoena for the information. In response, the Clay County Commission filed a lawsuit in January to quash the subpoena. 

“[T]he Commission’s various counts in this case are dependent upon the proposition that the request for closed meeting minutes is an unconstitutional act, a conclusion this Court cannot draw on the facts alleged,” Beetem said in his two-page ruling

“[T]he State Auditor is not limited to performing a particular kind of audit when auditing a political subdivision,” Beetem said. 

The audit of Clay County was initiated after a citizen petition was submitted to the State Auditor’s Office and then verified to have more than the minimum 5,590 signatures of county residents who are registered voters. 

According to the State Auditor’s Office, the information requested was standard, and it made multiple requests for the information before the subpoena was issued. 

But the Clay County Commission contested that narrative. Clay County Commissioner Luann Ridgeway previously told The Missouri Times it released more than 300,000 lines of financial transactions and 1,300 pages of documents pursuant to the auditor’s requests. 

Beetem’s ruling put an end to the lawsuit and allows the state auditor to move forward with her records request.

“This is a major victory for Clay County taxpayers. This lawsuit represented an unprecedented level of obstruction. With its dismissal, the Clay County Commission should fully cooperate with the audit that citizens demanded. My office is committed to getting the answers Clay County residents deserve and will move forward with audit work,” Galloway said in a statement.

Clay County Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte, who vote against the lawsuit, told The Missouri Times he opposes “any additional costly appeals or further obstructions to the citizen mandated audit.”

“Judge Beetem’s ruling is not surprising, I have opposed the legal maneuvers that were struck down by his ruling on October 24,” Nolte said. “The state audit is an indispensable part of restoring the people’s trust in their government. I call on Commissioners Ridgeway and Owen to not waste more taxpayer money attempting to overturn the court’s decision and to cooperate, in good faith, with the audit of Clay County.”

“There are two basic reasons why this audit is required,” Nolte, who signed the petition for the audit, added. “First is the massive spending, which includes Commissioners voting for massive raises and $64,000 back pay settlements for themselves, I voted in the minority. Also, approximately $52,000,000 in new debt, without a vote of the people, $84,000 for lobbyists, skyrocketing legal fees and a lawsuit over inadequate funding for the Sheriff. The second reason is a lack of transparency and the curtailing citizen comments in open meetings. In too many cases Commissioners Ridgeway and Owen have called the Previous Question before citizens could speak, cutting off debate or public comments.”