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What’s happening in legal battle between State Auditor, Clay County

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A request for executive session minutes has resulted in an ongoing court battle between the Missouri State Auditor’s Office and the Clay County Commissioners.

The subpoena has been stayed until the outcome of the legal battle and a status conference call has been scheduled for February 28, 2019.

“The Commission has an obligation to protect the taxpayers and medical and personal privacy of the employees of Clay County from the overreach from a Jefferson City politician,” said Clay County Commissioner Luann Ridgeway.

“My auditors are requesting basic information, and there is no reason why it should be this difficult,” State Auditor Nicole Galloway said when the subpoena was first issued. “Citizens asked for an audit of their government because they wanted answers about the operations of their county. I will use the full authority of my office to ensure they get the answers they deserve.”

The legal battle is focused around a records request in an ongoing citizen-requested audit of Clay County.

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 they made multiple requests for the information before the subpoena was issued.

“Within the first six weeks of this process, my team has encountered delays, roadblocks and evasive responses that make it challenging to complete audit work in a cost-effective way on behalf of the taxpayers of Clay County,” Galloway said in a previous statement.  

But the Clay County Commission contests that narrative. According to Ridgeway, Clay County has released more than 300,000 lines of financial transactions and 1,300 pages of documents pursuant to the Auditor’s requests. She noted that from Dec 19, 2018, through January 2019, the auditor made roughly 37 separate requests and more than 30 have been fully answered.  

“In some instances, the County has provided more documentation than requested by the State Auditor. There are far more areas of cooperation than disagreement,” said Ridgeway.

The two entities are butting 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 to quash the subpoena.

“The Auditor made absolutely no attempt to tie her blanket requests to her State Constitutional limitation to audit the receipt and expenditure of public funds. We do not believe that the law allows the Auditor to go on an unlimited fishing expedition,” said Ridgeway.

The State Auditor’s Office discounts the notation that the information request was outside their purview and stated that the “Auditor is confident in her legal authority.”

The lawsuit, which is in Cole County, is before Judge Jon Beetem. The State Auditor’s Office is seeking to have the case dismissed. A status conference call has been scheduled for February 28, 2019.

Per a joint request from the State Auditor and Clay County Commission, the subpoena has been halted pending the outcome of the case.

“…the Auditor shall take no action to enforce said subpoena, until such time that the Court makes an order allowing for the same,” Beetem’s order states.

“Auditor Galloway remains committed to her legal duty to complete a comprehensive audit of Clay County and get taxpayers the answers they deserve,” a press release from the auditor’s office stated.

Ridgeway said that they will continue to cooperate with the State Auditor concerning financial transactions, receipts, and expenditures of public funds.