Clay County | KCUR

Clay County

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Two top Clay County officials who make more than $100,000 a year live rent-free at county-managed properties, according to leases obtained by KCUR through a records request. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

While we’re glued to the news gushing daily out of Washington — impeachment, immigration, health care — the truth is we should be paying just as close attention to what local governments are up to.

Segment 1: Reporters unravel the dysfunction that plagues government in one Missouri county.

Clay County, Missouri, residents want answers as to how their commissioners are making decisions. The county is currently embroiled in legal wrangling with the state auditor and the county sheriff, and citizens are complaining their voices are not being heard. Journalists covering the situation say they've "never seen a series of actions quite like this."

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Clay County Commission meetings are tense. There are arguments over procedural matters, like what’s even on the agenda, as well as policy matters like budgeting. There’s a lot of finger-pointing about who is to blame. 

The county itself is under a microscope, the subject of high-profile legal battles and a state audit initiated by thousands of voters. Citizens who want more of a say are showing up at commission meetings and posting updates on Facebook groups, but they don’t feel heard. And some elected county officials are open about the fact they feel they’re part of a dysfunctional system.

Everyone agrees on one thing: Something isn’t working.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

The Clay County government deliberately underfunded jail contracts for food and health care for the county’s inmates, according to Thursday’s ruling by the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals. 

The three-panel court sided with a trial court’s decision in a case where the facts were largely undisputed. Clay County is supposed to pay the sheriff’s office about $1 million, though it has the ability to appeal again.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Updated at Nov. 19 with funding lost — The Clay County Sheriff’s Office did lose more than $280,000 in federal funding this week, because the county didn’t submit a required audit by the Nov. 15 deadline.

The Kansas City Police Department administers the funds. It will send a letter Tuesday notifying Clay County of the grant funding being pulled, according to KCPD spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina.

Clay County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Steve Siercks said there’s enough money to keep the five grant-funded positions going until the end of December, but the office will have to ask the Clay County Commission to make up for the lost funding.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Clay County’s issues are starting to come to a head, as this week alone the Missouri state auditor issued a subpoena for documents in an ongoing audit, the county commission continued to defend underfunding jail contracts in court and talked about what it would take to change the county’s governance structure.

Segment 1: Clay County, Missouri, audit is stalled amid ongoing litigation.

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway launched an audit into Clay County last December, after more than 9,000 citizens requested it. Since then, the county has withheld documents needed to complete the audit, received a subpoena and sued the auditor's office. Sherry Duffett of the group Citizens for a Better Clay County points to Luann Ridgeway and Gene Owen, two of the county's three commissioners, as the reason the audit is at a standstill.

Segment 1: While the rest of the nation has seen a decrease in the number of drug overdose deaths, Missouri and Kansas have seen a rise.

In 2018 death by drug overdose declined 4.2% in the United States, but Missouri saw an increase of 17% while Kansas saw a 5.6% rise. Public health officials from each side of the state line offer their thoughts on what was behind the respective upswings.

Bigstock

Criminal justice advocates in Missouri hope that new statewide rules will keep poor defendants out of jail because they can’t afford bail.

But one Kansas City public defender is concerned that poor defendants will have to stay behind bars before trial due to the cost of electronic monitoring devices.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

The day after Quinton Lucas defeated his fellow Kansas City Council member, Jolie Justus, in the city's mayoral election, Lucas said he had a roadmap for what he would consider a successful tenure. His three criteria are based on his major campaign issues of crime, infrastructure and housing.

Number one on his priorities list, he said, is creating a safer city.

“I want to see us get below 100 homicides for like two years in a row, not just one,” Lucas said. “I want to see us out of the top 10 most dangerous cities list.”

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Updated at 9:49 p.m. with tornado warnings canceled — A large tornado caused damage south of Lawrence and in the small town of Linwood, Kansas, on Tuesday night, but looked to miss the majority of the Kansas City metro area.

Missouri Auditor's Office

A judge ruled Monday that the audit of Clay County's government, which was requested by residents, can proceed.

City of Parkville

Northland voters repealed a pit bull ban and agreed to one of two sales tax increase in Tuesday’s municipal elections. Here’s a breakdown of what passed and what didn't.

Best Friends Animal Society

As Kansas Citians narrow eleven mayoral candidates down to two in next week’s election, voters in Liberty, Missouri, will be casting an equally contentious vote — whether to repeal the city’s three-decade-old pitbull ban.

“The science and all the studies show that pitbulls are not the monstrous breed that has been portrayed by some of the media,” said Jessica McKinney, a member of Liberty Pitbull Alliance, which began lobbying the city council to repeal the ban three years ago.

Samuel King / KCUR 89.3

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.

Missouri Auditor's Office

The Clay County Commission is looking to limit the scope of an ongoing, resident-requested state audit of the county’s finances and operations.

The county filed a lawsuit Thursday just hours after Auditor Nicole Galloway issued a subpoena to force the county to turn over documentation from all Clay County Commission meetings in 2017 and 2018.

Segment 1: Four nearby counties are "the most typical in the U.S." according to recent study.

A recent study by Echelon Insights, a research and polling firm based in Washington D.C., ranked the top 25 most typical counties in America. Two on the list include Jackson and Clay county in Missouri, as well as Shawnee and Sedgwick in Kansas, respectively. So what makes us so typical? And what does 'typical' even mean?

Courtesy of J. Anthony Snorgrass

A poet and playwright is working to preserve the legacy of an iconic leader in the black community of Liberty, Missouri.

The poet and playwright is Shelton Ponder, a lifelong Liberty resident who graduated from Liberty High School in 1961.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Just off the historic Town Square in Liberty, Missouri, there is a spot that every year draws thousands of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It’s a replica of the jail where the Prophet Joseph Smith and a handful of his followers were imprisoned for several months through the winter of 1838 – 1839.

The story is that Smith and his flock, having migrated from New York, clashed violently with militia in the Midwest.

A person sits behind a microphone with an N-P-R sign in the background.
Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Segment 1: State auditor says her look into Clay County government is forthcoming.

Many in the metro think of Clay County politics as dull, but disputes on the board of commissioners and accusations of misused public money are anything but tedious for concerned citizens there. Today, we reviewed a segment from July about what drove one group to ask state officials to take a closer look. Then, we got an update on the audit in question.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KBIA

Segment 1: Going "Beyond the Ballot" to find what drives Missouri voters to the ballots.

Samuel King / KCUR-89.3

In the blocks around the square in downtown Liberty, the seat of government in western Missouri’s Clay County, there’s a varied amount of businesses, restaurants and shops.

There’s just as varied an amount of political opinions ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm election. Dustin McAdams tends bar at Rock and Run Brewery and Pub, and while he’s sure he’ll vote in this year’s election, he has no loyalty to one party.

Segment 1: 2018 has been an interesting year for politics in Clay County.

From a grassroots petition to audit the Clay County government to controversy surrounding a candidate running for Missouri House District 15, we look at meaningful headlines affecting communities north of the river.

  • Amy Neal, Regional News Director for NPG Newspapers in the Northland

Segment 2, beginning at 15:59: Many Americans have polarizing viewpoints on the media. The truth is even more complicated.

Sherry Duffett, leader of Citizens For A Better Clay County, sits in front of a microphone in the KCUR studio.
Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Segment 1: Problems in Clay County government prompted request. 

More than 9,000 Clay County residents are asking Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway to take a hard look on their county's government. This week the county administrator resigned, last year two other county officials were charged with tampering with public records, and there have been a number of questionable purchases made with tax payer dollars. Today we looked at how county government became so bad that residents went to the state for answers.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Clay County Administrator Dean Brookshier resigned Wednesday.

Brookshier will be paid more than $240,000 in severance pay, unused vacation pay and unused sick time. This is despite Brookshier not giving the county the 90 days of notice required by his employment contract. Under his employment contract, failing to give 90 days of notice meant that he wouldn’t be “entitled to any benefits in addition to those afforded him under the law and County policy.”

In a 2-1 vote in executive session Wednesday, the county commissioners waived this requirement.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Clay County is pledging $500,000 over two years to build a Law Enforcement Memorial Garden in Kansas City, Missouri, despite concerns over the budget.

The Clay County Commissioners voted 2-1 today in favor of the funding the memorial in a contentious meeting. Critics worried about pledging money before the 2020 budget process and donating to the memorial after reducing funding to the sheriff’s office.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Wells Fargo is investing $5.7 million in the Kansas City area to provide down payment assistance to eligible residents.

Residents in Cass, Clay and Jackson county will be able to apply for the $15,000 down payment assistance if they meet certain income eligibility requirements.

The program is a partnership with Westside Housing Organization and is part of the NeighborhoodLIFT program. This was created in 2012 to help provide financial assistance to low-income homeowners.

Missouri Auditor's Office

Clay County residents who want a complete state audit of county finances and operations took a step closer to that Friday.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway's office confirmed about 9,100 signatures were delivered by a group called Citizens For A Better Clay County.

If 5,590 are valid, then state law mandates that Galloway conduct the audit.

The audit would be both of finances and operations, according to the auditor's office.

The group has three main concerns, according to Jason Withington, the driving force behind the petitions.

Danny Wood / KCUR 89.3

Decades after most of the buildings were dismantled, newspaper articles raved about the beautiful vistas from a hilltop in Clay County: “One of the finest views of Missouri River countryside in all directions that may be found,” the Kansas City Journal wrote in 1941.

Pages