CLAY COUNTY — In one of the shortest open Clay County Commission sessions in recent history, no action was taken to question voters on the April ballot about the creation of a constitutional form of government commission, the meeting's only public action item on the agenda. Instead, what took place was a questioning of county staff and elected officials about who called the meeting that seemingly had no valid reason to take place.
Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway made a motion and all three commissioners voted in favor of removing the sole action item from the agenda. Ridgeway cited the county's lead legal counsel, Lowell Pearson, being unable to attend as the reason for her motion.
“He is the person with the most expertise as to the reason for the wording (of the ballot question) being the way that it is,” she said. “Since he cannot be here, … I think it's best if we delete it from the agenda until we can hear more from Mr. Pearson."
In a rare move, Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte said he agreed with Ridgeway's motion to remove the agenda item, saying the effort is an important one that should be fully vetted.
“I think there are reasons not to rush into this because it is a serious matter,” he said, adding there is plenty of time between when filing for the April ballot closes in January to submit the details to the county election board.
While discussing the agenda item, county resident Maureen Sanford took to the podium to ask if the commission action was important enough to call a special meeting that required people, including the public, to take time out of their day to attend, was Pearson contacted ahead of the meeting.
“If this is an important issue and is now to be removed, was that person contacted within of when that 24-hour notice came out?” she posited. “... Who called the meeting?”
Notice of the session was posted 24 hours ahead of the meeting, as is required by Missouri Sunshine Law, on Monday, Nov. 25.
Nolte said he had no prior knowledge of the meeting ahead of getting a notice via email at the same time the public was notified.
Both associate commissioners, Gene Owen and Ridgeway, said they did not call the meeting and received the same notice Nolte did at the same time.
Ridgeway added she assumed staff called the meeting because it also included an executive session that deals with contractual obligations that needed taken care and because it seemed clear to her at the last commission session Nov. 18 that commissioners wanted staff to move forward on getting the ballot effort out to voters.
Delegation of a number of duties, including calling commission meetings to convene, was delegated to an assistant county administrator by a majority vote of 2-1 with Nolte against.
When asked by Nolte who called the meeting, both assistant county administrators in attendance, Nicole Brown and Brad Garrett, offered no response. Assistant County Administrator for Finance Laurie Portwood, who has been scheduling commission sessions, was absent.
Nolte said the legal matter for closed session was not an emergency and neither was taking up the ballot question, meaning there was no reason to call a commission meeting outside of regular meeting dates.
“Wanting it done and wanting it done with just barely 24 hours notice is not the same. There is no rush, and someone needs to take ownership. Here we are sitting in a commission meeting that apparently nobody called. This does not speak well of this county,” he said. “No one knows what the hell we're doing.”
After removing the item from open session of the agenda, the commission approved going into executive session.