Commissioner at odds with county statement on audit

Presiding Clay County Commissioner Jerry Nolte, center, says he was not consulted before an unsigned released statement from the County Commission was issued this week firing back at State Auditor Nicole Galloway about the status of the state audit of the county and county's lawsuit against Galloway's office. Nolte is proposing a resolution Monday, Sept. 23, that, if passed, would required nonemergency county releases to be reviewed by all commissioners and include contact details for community response.

CLAY COUNTY — In what has become a familiar claim of lack of communication before action by staff, Clay County Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte is again saying he was not consulted before county staff released a statement seemingly on behalf of the commission on commission letterhead. The statement, dated Tuesday, Sept. 17, responded to State Auditor Nicole Galloway's open letter to county residents that called the county's lawsuit against her office an “unprecedented obstruction.”

“Once again, Auditor Nicole Galloway is attempting an audit by press release rather than simply getting to work on the audit requested by the citizens of Clay County. The state auditor has been welcomed to Clay County, provided dedicated office space — which she has allowed to sit vacant for months, provided 300,000 lines of financial data and multiple tours of county facilities,” the statement reads.

Nolte said he was not given the opportunity to provide input on or to review press releases and official statements on the state audit before they were distributed.

"I don’t know if the associate commissioners had the opportunity to approve these communications in advance. The views expressed in these official statements and press releases purportedly representing the positions of the Clay County Commission do not represent my views,” Nolte said in his own press release also dated Sept. 17.

The county letter states Clay County believes Galloway should conduct her constitutional duties of auditing financial actions and not try to “take over the management decisions for Clay County.”

As the county-released statement was not signed and did not include contact information, it is unclear who penned the statement on the commission's behalf.

Western Commissioner Gene Owen could not be reached for comment. Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway said she agrees with the statement.

Nolte said anonymous communications are not representative of good government.

The release this week is not the first time a county statement has supposedly been released without Nolte's input. When Cole County Circuit Court granted a joint motion filed by the auditor's office and county to stay a subpoena Galloway's office issued for public records access earlier this year, Nolte said he was not consulted before the county statement was released. That release claimed both the auditor and county agreed that “serious constitutional issues surround the auditor’s subpoena power, for which a judicial opinion is needed. ... (The stay) shows that the county’s concerns about constitutional overreach are real, and that the constitutional issues at stake should be decided by an impartial judge in a courtroom, not by a single politician in Jefferson City.”

In addition to saying he did not know of or was consulted about the statement before its release, Nolte said in February the language used in the release was harsh and inappropriate.

As he has throughout the audit process, Nolte said this week he is on the state auditor's side.

“I share the frustration of citizens and will continue to urge the county commission to withdraw the lawsuit obstructing the citizen-mandated state audit. I believe cooperation with the state audit team to facilitate an efficient and comprehensive audit is in the best interests of our people,” he said.

To try to prevent future staff press releases from being disseminated without all commissioners having a chance for input, Nolte is proposing a resolution at the Monday, Sept. 23, commission meeting that no press release, official statements or other official nonemergency communications on behalf of Clay County or the Clay County Commission will be disseminated unless all county commissioners have 24 hours to review the communication and include any comments or quotes. If approved, all press releases will also have to have a contact name, email and/or phone number attached.

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

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