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Auditor doubles down on county as MEC lacks quorum

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Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway on Wednesday again called on the Greene County Commission to grant her office permission to audit the municipality.

In a letter issued March 21 to the county commission, Galloway referenced a lack of a quorum for the Missouri Ethics Commission, for which Gov. Eric Greitens reportedly has failed to appoint new members. Steph Deidrick, spokeswoman for the auditor’s office, said the terms of three MEC commissioners expired March 15, leaving the six-member board short by one member to meet a quorum. Greitens’ appointees to the MEC would have to be approved by the state Senate, which is currently on spring break, Deidrick said.

Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin has eschewed the auditor’s requests, instead opting to cooperate with a similar — but separate — investigation by the MEC into allegations of misused public resources. In both cases, the county is accused of using taxpayer funding to illicitly influence the November 2017 ballot issue for a new half-cent general revenue sales tax. Voters approved the tax, which is designed to generate $25.5 million annually for the jail, justice system and other county projects.

Galloway wrote that, with the MEC unable to perform its duties related to the case, the auditor’s office is the “only viable option to determine whether and to what extent public resources were used to support the ballot measure.”

“It is the job of this office to determine whether government corruption, waste, fraud and mismanagement has occurred,” she wrote in the letter to Cirtin and Commissioners Harold Bengsch and Lincoln Hough. “This is distinctly different from the role of the Missouri Ethics Commission in this matter, which looks into violations of campaign finance laws, not abuse and misuse of taxpayer dollars.”

Late last year, Galloway first sought permission for an audit after former county Communications and Public Engagement Director Trysta Herzog filed a whistleblower complaint with the auditor’s office. First-class counties such as Greene must pass an ordinance or resolution allowing audits.

Cirtin declined to comment on the latest request by Galloway, referring questions to the commission’s attorney, Eddie Griem of Kansas City-based Graves Garrett LLC.

In a statement, Griem said the county is confident the MEC will issue a decision resolving the matter within the next few weeks. He said while the MEC does lack a quorum, its attorneys and investigators are still at work.

“Over the last several months, the MEC’s commissioners and staff were fully aware of the upcoming loss of quorum. They prepared for it,” Griem said. “This would have included taking several votes over the last few meetings, the results of which are not yet public.

“The MEC’s investigators reviewed county officials’ conduct under the very statute referenced in the auditor’s letter, which is the standard under Missouri law for measuring ‘abuse and misuse of taxpayer funds’ with respect to a local ballot measure election.”

He declined to comment further on the MEC investigation.

Griem said Galloway is incapable of meeting the standards of her office that prohibit her from “bias and partisanship.”

“She has incomplete facts, does not display an understanding of the applicable law and is out of her depth, but is still willing to hurl accusations at a proposed auditee,” he said. “In Greene County and across the state, she is publicly fishing for auditing work and headlines. It is time for this unseemly conduct to stop.”

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