County pays sheriff's office after legal fight ends

Sheriff Paul Vescovo and sheriff’s deputy Capt. Steve Siercks listen Monday, Jan. 27, as commissioners allocate funds transferred to the sheriff’s office for nearly $1 million for health care and food vendor contracts and attorney’s fees after the county lost the lawsuit brought against it by the sheriff.

CLAY COUNTY — Closing the door on its lengthy legal battle with the sheriff’s office, the Clay County Commission appropriated nearly $1 million to the sheriff’s office during its Monday, Jan. 27 meeting.

This winter the state Supreme Court refused to hear the case after the county circuit and state appeals court found last year in favor of the sheriff’s office. Sheriff Paul Vescovo sued the commission last year, seeking $1.75 million from the 2019 Clay County General Fund Budget to fully restore his budget and to cover obligations and shortfalls related to the responsibilities of his office, as well as legal fees and damages.

Court documents state the commission wrongly and purposefully approved the county budget with reductions of more than 60% of the sheriff’s total requested funds for contracts and commodities, a deficiency of more than $1 million.

On Monday, the commission approved transferring the court-approved $755,152 from the general fund to the sheriff’s law enforcement tax fund to cover vendor contracts for health care and food needs of county jail detainees. The commission also approved transfer of $196,760 for sheriff’s office legal fees associated with the lawsuit.

“I am happy and relieved,” said Vescovo of the action.

The motion to approve the funds transfer was unanimously approved by all three commissioners, marking the first time commissioners Gene Owen, Luann Ridgeway and Jerry Nolte voted in lockstep in the matter since the legal issue arose last year.

Nolte, the county presiding commissioner, has been on the sheriff’s side in the matter since the lawsuit was filed, but Owen and Ridgeway pushed for appeals in the suit. The two associate commissioners originally approved the budget shortfalls last year that resulted in the sheriff’s suing the county to cover approved contracts.

During public comment on the action Monday, county resident and Liberty business owner Jesse Leimkuehler said he was happy the commission finally allocated funds to the sheriff, adding commissioners should not have wasted taxpayer dollars on high-priced lawyers to continue to fight the lawsuit that was won twice by the sheriff.

“There was no way we should’ve wasted this amount of money on legal interactions with this. This should have been over and done with and should’ve saved the county literally hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said of the legal fight. “It was obnoxious and totally unneeded.”

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

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