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Clay County Constitution stays on Nov. 5 ballot

A judge has ruled that the Clay County Constitution authorized by a vote last November will go before the voters this November.

Judge Roger Prokes of the 4th Judicial Circuit Court in Nodaway County agreed last month with one of seven counts in a lawsuit brought by the current Clay County Commission members, but refused the other six because they were not “ripe for adjudication.”

Jeremy A. Root is representing Commissioners Luann Ridgeway, Pam Mason and Gene Owen in the lawsuit. He said on Monday that the trial judge had agreed that the ballot language for the Nov. 5 election was “misleading and unfair” and rewrote the ballot language.

“For counts two through seven, in which we claim that the proposed constitution is substantially unconstitutional and could not be implemented if passed, the judge refused a hearing,” Root explained.

Afterward, he added, the commission sought an order from the court of appeals and the Missouri Supreme Court, both of which denied the hearing without comment.

David Ramsay, an attorney for Craig Porter and Carol Suter, said the results weren’t surprising.

“Unless Mr. Root plans to spend more taxpayer money to file more frivolous actions, this case is stayed until after the election,” Ramsay said.

On Sept. 24, the court granted a motion by Suter and Porter, the co-chairs of the commission that drafted the proposed constitution, to intervene in the case and allow the issue to remain on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Ramsay, who also served on the constitution commission, dismissed the claims of Ridgeway, Mason and Owen.

“I’ve read everything they’ve written, and spent hours and hours researching, and nothing in the Missouri Constitution supports their claims. In fact, it specifically supports requiring a public election as the last step in the process.”

He said that the current commissioners claim that if the constitution is approved, it would immediately close down the county’s operations.

“That’s absolutely wrong,” he said, “but that was their argument for keeping it off the ballot.” Like Root, he added that the court of appeals and supreme court had rejected the argument.

Ramsay said since the matter has not been before the voters yet, and is therefore not yet a law, then the courts have no jurisdiction to interpret it.

“The judge technically did decide one thing,” Ramsay said, supporting what Root had stated. “He did not like the ballot language, so we invited him to rewrite it. We were up against a deadline with regard to the election board.”

Root said the judge did say the courts could consider the merits of his clients’ claims after the election, assuming the voters approve the constitution as proposed. The case is set for trial on Nov. 15, he added, but regretted that nothing could be done sooner.

“I think the legal issues here are very severe, and it’s unfortunate that we can’t get a resolution before Nov. 5,” he said.

Ramsay stated that he hoped the legal aspects wouldn’t overshadow the election.

“I hope the voters will consider the actual contents of the constitution, and not the rumors being spread around,” he said. “I think Clay County deserves to have a modern government, and not one devised in the 1840s.”

The proposed Clay County Constitution establishes home rule, replaces the three-member county commission with a seven-member county council (six members elected to represent districts and one county chair elected at large) and makes several positions that are currently elected offices into appointed offices instead.

The sheriff and prosecuting attorney would continue to be elected positions.

The complete wording of the proposed constitution appears on pages 13 through 17 of today’s Standard.

By Eric Copeland • eric@leaderpress.com

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