CLAY COUNTY — The ongoing legal saga that has become the state audit of Clay County continues as the county was granted an extension it sought from Clay County Circuit Court to turn over records court-ordered to be released in late October to the state auditor’s office.
The county sought an extension three days after the court’s Oct. 23 order to turn over records by Nov. 2 to provide time to mount an appeal to the court’s ruling. In the Oct. 23 judgment, issued after multiple subpoenas were issued to Clay County by State Auditor Nicole Galloway, the court ordered the county to produce all 2017 to 2019 meeting minutes, whether from opened or closed meetings with redactions allowed as specified in the subpoenas, as well as produce personnel performance appraisals. Assistant County Administrator Nicole Brown was also ordered to be examined under oath by auditor office staff.
“Clay County has the right to appeal the recent circuit court decision related to the Missouri State Auditor’s authority to access highly confidential records about Clay County’s employees. However, the court’s deadline to turn over the documents in question does not allow for that opportunity, so as allowed by Missouri law, Clay County has simply asked the court to extend that deadline while Clay County considers an appeal,” states a county release.
In November of 2019, Galloway issued a subpoena, the third since the audit began, demanding records and testimony from Brown. A previous statement from the county reported its legal counsel didn’t let Brown be deposed because “legal counsel learned just before the hearing was to begin that nonattorney staff from the State Auditor’s Office would be conducting the questioning.”
The summary judgment issued Oct. 23 states the auditor’s office is authorized by state law to “examine witnesses under oath in connection with a lawful audit without being a licensed attorney.”
“I remain committed to the fight for answers on behalf of Clay County citizens. For too long, county commissioners ignored taxpayers’ calls for accountability. That’s why our office went to court to demand answers and ensure we get the facts. The court’s ruling requires that Clay County officials comply with my audit and stop their obstruction. This ruling is not just a win for the people of Clay County, it’s a win for all Missourians who exercise their right to hold their government accountable in the pursuit of transparency,” said Galloway in a release regarding the court’s Oct. 23 judgment.
With the county’s extension granted Friday, Oct. 30, deadlines to turn over records and have testimony recorded have been changed to “the 15th day after the court’s judgment becomes final for purposes of appeal; should defendants not perfect an appeal or if defendants do perfect a timely appeal, 15 days after all appellate rights have been exhausted should the Missouri appellate courts affirm the court’s judgment,” states the county’s granted motion to amend the court’s judgment. “The examination of Nicole Brown may take place a reasonable time after the applicable deadline runs to accommodate her schedule and that of counsel.”
The state audit was initiated after a citizen petition was submitted to the auditor’s office and then verified to have more than the minimum 5,590 signatures of county residents who are registered voters. The audit began in December of 2018.
In January 2019, the Clay County Commission sued to prevent the auditor from conducting the audit. In October of last year, a court ruling confirmed the auditor’s legal authority to conduct performance audits and dismissed the county commission’s lawsuit. That case is currently on appeal in the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District.
To date, the auditor’s office issued audits of the Clay County clerk, public administrator and recorder of deeds. All received “good” ratings.
According to the summary report issued by Galloway’s office, a “good” rating indicates the audited entity “is well managed. The report contains few findings, and the entity has indicated most or all recommendations have already been or will be implemented.”