County commission executive session concerns commissioner, citizens

Clay County Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte said an executive session held July 23 could have been held July 22. Having the meeting on a separate day, Nolte contends, cost the county added hundreds to thousands of dollars in legal fees as county legal counsel had to attend both meetings. Eastern County Commissioner Luann Ridgeway, at right, said the lawyer in attendance at the July 23 commission meeting was from a Kansas City office, so the bulk of the charges will be for actual representation and not drive time.

CLAY COUNTY — A closed executive session of Clay County commissioners that took place in July caused consternation among some county residents and had Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte saying he doesn’t understand why the meeting had to be held on the day it did, as it interrupted county assessment appeal hearings with the Board of Equalization.

Nolte said Western Commissioner Gene Owen and Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway called the July 23 meeting without his immediate knowledge and that he did not know the specifics of the meeting until arriving for it. Nolte said ahead of the meeting, he only knew it was to be held for “real estate” purposes, which was listed on Sunshine Law-required meeting notice.

County resident Lisa Keefer, who tried to get clarification from commissioners as they entered the executive session as to why the meeting was taking place and interrupting tax assessment appeal hearings, left frustrated, calling the meeting “ridiculous” as she spoke with television news crews in the county Administration Building on the Liberty Square.

It is unclear what specific action took place at the meeting, as minutes provided to the Courier-Tribune by the county’s Sunshine Law attorney, Joe Hatley of Spencer Fane law firm, were redacted. When asked if the subject matter of the closed meeting related to the future of the Clay County Annex building, commissioners were vague.

“I can’t say that,” Nolte said.

“It is not proper for me or anyone present in executive session to discuss what occurred, or did not occur, in closed session, which is all in compliance with Missouri open records law,” said Ridgeway.

Owen could not be reached for comment.

Nolte said the meeting did not need to be held July 23 and it could have been held after the commissioners’ regular session on July 22, which would have saved the county hundreds to thousands of dollars in legal fees as a the county’s legal firm is based out of town and was paid to attend and drive to both meetings.

“In my opinion, no reason whatsoever,” Nolte said when asked by the Courier-Tribune if business handled in the meeting needed to occur on July 23 instead of July 22, when all parties were already present.

Elaborating on attorney fee costs for the meeting, Ridgeway said the lawyer in attendance at the July 23 commission meeting was from a Kansas City office, so the bulk of the charges will be for actual representation.

“We were only in session a short time, so the fees for representation at the executive meeting could not come anywhere near what a sensational report may have alleged,” she said.

The meeting also did not need to be held in commission chambers, Nolte said, as it disrupted Board of Equalization proceedings taking place.

“As the Sunshine Law works, we are required to have those meetings in a place that will have reasonable accommodations for the anticipated number of people. We couldn’t have it in a phone booth, but we had other options. There’s a meeting room downstairs,” he said speaking from the County Administration Building. “There are three empty offices in this building.”“We respected the Board of Equalization’s time and only took approximately 10 minutes in the hearing room, which they used as a short break in their proceedings,” said Ridgeway. “We even waited until it was convenient for the board to take a short recess before starting the brief public session of our commission meeting. I have no reason to believe the board’s work was hampered.”

Managing Editor Amanda Lubinski can be reached at amanda.lubinski@mycouriertribune.com or 903-6001.

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