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Judge Orders Embattled Clay County Commission To Hand Over Long-Sought Documents In State Audit

20191212_ClayCountyBudget_00001.jpg
Julie Denesha
Jesse Leimkuehler poses questions about the allocation of funds during a Clay County Commission budget meeting Thursday December 19, 2019.

The order stems from a voter-requested audit of the troubled county commission, which has been sued for violating a government transparency law and underfunding jail contracts.

Almost a year after Missouri’s auditor subpoenaed documents as part of a Clay County audit requested by thousands of citizens, a Missouri judge ordered the county commission to comply.

The commission has been under scrutiny since the state launched an audit in 2018, following citizens' complaints. The order, made Friday, is the latest legal loss for the commission, which has been sued for violating a government transparency law and underfunding jail contracts.

The auditor’s office says their work has been delayed by challenges from the commission and went to court to enforce subpoenas.

“For too long, county commissioners ignored taxpayers' calls for accountability,” Auditor Nicole Galloway said in a statement released Monday. “That's why our office went to court to demand answers and ensure we get the facts.”

The county’s legal team is currently reviewing the decision and isn’t ruling out an appeal, according to an unsigned statement.

“All along, staff has prioritized protecting our employees' private information, which the Missouri Supreme Court has consistently found to be highly confidential," the statement said. "That remains our focus. Due to the potential for further legal action, Clay County cannot comment any further at this time.”

Judge James Van Amburg ruled on Friday that the commission should hand over closed meeting notes and employee performance reviews. He also ordered Clay County assistant administrator Nicole Brown give sworn testimony.

Brown didn’t show up to a November 2019 deposition, citing a family commitment. During a December 2019 deposition, Brown declined to answer questions because, she said, the audit staff member wasn’t a lawyer. Clay County Commission lawyers argued that this amounted to non-lawyers practicing law, according to the Courier-Tribune. The ruling states that Brown must take part in the deposition “whether or not such staff is licensed to practice law.”

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