CLAY COUNTY —On Friday, Nov. 22, State Auditor Nicole Galloway issued yet another subpoena to Clay County, demanding the county turn over documents associated with a citizen-mandated audit. This is in addition to a previous subpoena issued on Nov. 8, and is the third subpoena overall issued by the state auditor for records in relation to the county audit.
“Auditors were on site in Clay County conducting audit fieldwork and making standard requests for information routinely and readily provided in audits of county governments. Several requests are related to concerns raised by Clay County petitioners and whistleblowers who have contacted the State Auditor’s Office,” states a release from the auditor’s office last week. “The county indicated certain responsive records would not be provided to auditors, which is why those materials are now being subpoenaed.”
The Nov. 8 subpoena commanded Assistant County Administrator Nicole Brown or her representative to appear Monday, Nov. 25, to the Fletcher Daniels State Office Building in Kansas City, to provide testimony and a long list of records. According to the auditor’s office, Clay County staff failed to appear as required Monday.
The new subpoena demands a similar list of records the Nov. 8 subpoena demanded including payroll data, former administrator computer equipment and emails, assessments and valuations, details on county bid policies and procedures, open and closed meeting minutes and details about contracts with lawyers and lobbying firms.
After the Nov. 8 subpoena was issued, an unsigned Clay County statement was released, calling that subpoena unnecessary and stating the county intended to comply with the auditor’s requests but needed more time.
“Our staff had already conveyed to the auditor’s office that it would produce nearly all of the requested materials but needed more time given the auditor only provided seven days to produce thousands of pages of documents, and given that county staff are working to meet a Nov. 15 deadline to complete the 2020 budget,” the Nov. 8 county statement reads.
The audit began in December 2018. In January 2019, the Clay County Commission sued to the auditor, claiming she was overstepping restricted powers she has as auditor. The commission’s chief legal complaint centered on the auditor’s request for 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.
An Oct. 24 court ruling confirmed the auditor’s legal authority to conduct performance audits and dismissed the County Commission’s lawsuit against the auditor. The commission is appealing the ruling.
In previous Courier-Tribune interviews, Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte, who does not agree with the county’s lawsuit and subsequent appeal against the state auditor’s office, said everyone in county government should comply with any requests made by the auditor or her staff.
In a Nov. 23 email to the newspaper, Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway said despite the auditor requesting copious amounts of additional data in a short timeframe, nearly all of the requested documents have been produced by the county.
“The county is committed to working in good faith to produce the remaining documents,” she wrote, adding that some of the documents requested are not available to the commission because they are controlled by other, independently-elected county officials.
“The auditor will have to make her demands directly to those independent officials, which include the sheriff, clerk and assessor. The auditor has subpoenaed the personnel performance reviews for approximately 25 county employees. In her last demand, the auditor recognized that some documents may be protected by law or by attorney-client privilege. It’s my understanding that lawyers for the auditor have been in discussions with county lawyers to hopefully get a quick resolution of any remaining issues,” said Ridgeway.
As neither Brown nor her representative appeared this week as required under the Nov. 8 subpoena, a Monday, Nov. 25 release from Galloway’s office states her office will now take Clay County to court to demand compliance.
“This is the first time the State Auditor’s Office has been required to take this step to get answers and information. The county’s continued unwillingness to cooperate with the citizen-mandated audit requires the State Auditor’s Office to evaluate available audit resources and legal options,” the release states.