Some residents of Clay County, Missouri, are so frustrated by what they say is a lack of transparency in county government that they've asked for a state audit of the Clay County Commission. Now, two Clay County legislators have introduced bills that would give Missouri voters the right to remove county commissioners through recall petitions.
One bill, filed by Republican Rep. Kenneth Wilson of Smithville, was heard in a House committee on February 20. The other bill, filed by Democratic Sen. Lauren Arthur of Kansas City, is awaiting action.
While Clay County is not the only county covered by the legislation, Arthur said the issues there were top of mind. Clay County commissioners have been fighting the scope of the citizen-requested state audit, claiming State Auditor Nicole Galloway is overreaching when it comes to the information her office is seeking.
"It's not an intent to recall the current commissioners," Arthur told KCUR, noting that it's possible another election could be held before a bill became law. "But I was concerned by the commissioners' actions and I'm confused why they would choose to waste taxpayer money to fight the citizen-led audit. I think it's unacceptable and I believe that citizens need a tool to hold their county elected officials accountable."
Both bills would apply to all First Class counties in Missouri (those without a charter form of government), including Clay, Platte and Cass Counties. The petitions must have a number of signatures equal to at least 7.5 percent of voters who cast ballots in the last election in which the commissioner was elected.
The petition must also provide reasons for the recall, including misconduct in office, incompetence or failure to perform duties prescribed by law.
One of the bill’s co-sponsors in the House, Democrat Jon Carpenter, said he intends to run for the western district commission seat in 2020.
"I get that there are people who are upset with a lot of the decisions being made," he said. "I'm one of them.”
Republican Commissioner Luann Ridgeway, who has previously served in the Missouri House and the Missouri Senate, said she opposed legislation expanding recalls in the past and continues to do so.
"It leads to paralysis on our boards and commissions. People will naturally avoid any controversy," Ridgeway said. "We already have recall elections. It's called the primary and the general election."
There is currently no recall provision on the state level, but it is available in certain municipalities in Missouri. Voters in Lee’s Summit recalled a council member in 2017.
Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews.