Cole County Division 1 Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem handed down his judgment Wednesday, Oct. 23, dismissing a lawsuit filed by the Clay County Commission contending Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway overstepped her authority in requesting certain information from the county as part of a state audit of the county initiated by citizen petition.
The County Commission's primary complaint was that the state auditor requested closed meeting minute records, according to court documents. The suit claimed such a request is unconstitutional because it is indicative of a “performance audit” and not restricted to a financial post-audit of transactions.
The order and judgment document signed by Beetem explains that the state auditor is authorized to conduct performance audits under Missouri Law. Section 29.185 states, "an audit may include either financial or performance audit objectives or one or more objectives from both types of audits."
In the judgment, Beetem wrote, “the court further finds that there is nothing per se unconstitutional about a records request. If there is content in such records that should not be disclosed, such an issue is properly raised in a proceeding to enforce an administrative subpoena.”
Galloway, in a statement from her office, said the court's order confirms the auditor's legal authority to conduct performance audits.
“This is a major victory for Clay County taxpayers. This lawsuit represented an unprecedented level of obstruction. With its dismissal, the Clay County Commission should fully cooperate with the audit that citizens demanded. My office is committed to getting the answers Clay County residents deserve and will move forward with audit work,” she said.
Presiding Clay County Commissioner Jerry Nolte said he hopes now the audit can move forward and the county can act on its eventual findings in a positive manner.
“This shows we should have been cooperating since the very beginning,” said Nolte, who has been in favor of the state audit since county residents were circulating a petition asking for the review.
“The people demanded it, and it is our job as elected officials to carry out the will of the people, and they expressed it in a very unambiguous way,” he said.
More than 9,000 people signed the petition seeking the state audit.
Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway and Western Commissioner Gene Owen have said they did not think such an audit was necessary. Among the concerns they have shared in the past is the cost of the state review, originally estimated between $100,000 and $150,000 and requiring a year to complete.
“Although the Auditor’s Office moved quickly to dismiss this case, it has resulted in a delay of the audit,” said Steph Dedrick, press secretary for Galloway. “Auditor
Galloway will not be charging the county for the costs of this lawsuit because Clay County taxpayers have incurred enough costs paying for the lawsuit brought by the two commissioners.”
Ridgeway said Wednesday, Oct. 30, she was reviewing the judgment.
“I prefer to reserve comment until I have reviewed the judgment more thoroughly,” she told the Courier-Tribune. “This is a matter that I want to carefully consider.”
The audit will proceed.
“With the court ruling, the audit resumes, including the process of gathering
documents and records necessary for the audit,” Dedrick said.