Clay County Commission | KCUR

Clay County Commission

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.

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.

Missouri Auditor's Office

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

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.