UPDATE: This article was updated with comments from Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway.
Today, Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte publicity asked Eastern Clay County Commissioner Luann Ridgeway and Western Clay County Commissioner Gene Owen to immediately resign.
Nolte said he doesn’t call for the resignations lightly. However, he said he believes Ridgeway and Owen have failed Clay County residents, and do more damage with each passing day. Citing examples of what he described as irresponsible spending, including a $600 coffeemaker and a $20 million new annex building, he said members of the public have repeatedly attempted to redress their grievances over these abuses and others, only to be met with contempt.
“We have all witnessed with disbelief and profound disappointment as Ridgeway and Owen’s arrogance, ignoring the voice of the people, has shattered the public’s trust in county government,” Nolte said. “Their actions cast a dark shadow on Clay County, causing continuous embarrassment to our citizens and made our county a laughing stock across the state.”
On Monday, Nov. 25, Ridgeway responded to Nolte's letter.
"As Ronald Reagan said in the face of a political attack 'There he goes again,'" she said. "Commissioner Nolte’s letter is of no effect except to worsen the toxic environment that he fosters and becomes another sad chapter in Clay County’s history of conflict. However, I remain hopeful that something very positive can come out of this. Constant controversy has plagued Clay County which has led me to revisit the need for change in the form of county government. Just last week, the Commission created a 12 person Constitutional Charter Advisory Board to fundamentally change our county government to a home-rule charter. This transformation has proven successful in other first class Missouri counties. It serves to kick-start a process to hopefully obtain voter approval of a quality charter that will put our county on a positive path into the future."
Ridgeway said one must only look to Nolte's Nolte’s Facebook page to view what she described as the "toxic environment." She said he never post anything "collegial or positive or even so much as considerate" in regard to her or Owen.
"Actually, you would probably have a very hard time finding any public statement Jerry Nolte has said in a positive tone toward any Commission decision — even when some decisions were unanimously supported by all three Commissioners," she said.
See the remainder of Ridgeway's statement in its entirety below.
"Where is the list of positive achievements Jerry Nolte has accomplished? Where has he exercised leadership to successfully diffuse controversy and find compromise?
"Have you gone back to read the news of the first few months of Commission action after Nolte was first elected? It was relatively quiet. But then Nolte’s true personality emerged as soon as he learned he could not micromanage or control every decision. Apparently, Nolte finds intolerable the concept of being 'one of three equals' on the Commission. After the first few months of Nolte’s election, it has been attack after attack on anyone who doesn’t do exactly as he demands. Yet his petulant attacks only serve to further alienate him from his colleagues on the Commission as well as Commission staff.
"Nolte disgraces our county with his inability to even conduct a public meeting with fairness and decorum. He allows cackling, laughter and other outbursts from those in attendance (assuming he agrees with them) as if Clay County public meetings are nothing more than a mellow drama. Then he publicly attacks fellow office holders with half-truths and whole lies and escalates every policy difference into personal attacks. He won’t even disassociate himself from social media threads that advocate potentially dangerous situations toward me and other female staff. And yes, Nolte always reserves his most vicious attacks for me and other female staff.
"Nolte says he supports military personnel and veterans yet his actions don’t support that. Commissioner Owen honorably served our nation as a Navy Seal and is rightfully a proud veteran, yet when Commissioner Nolte disagreed with Owen on a policy issue, he called Owen a “coward” in a public meeting — a ludicrous comment for which Nolte has yet to apologize.
"As Presiding Commissioner, Nolte has a duty to promote a positive image for Clay County. How does his resignation letter promote the best interests of Clay County? It seems that several news outlets will once again, at the prompting of Nolte’s letter, put Clay County in the news for controversy. So here we are again: Nolte punches Ridgeway and Owen, but Clay County takes the hit.
"Nolte has repeatedly admitted that he has no ability to lead Clay County as he claims he is consistently out-politicked and out-voted by a bi-partisan majority. If he is concerned about how such a strong bi-partisan majority was forged, he need look no further than a mirror.
"How sad that Nolte spent so much time on an attack letter that is of no effect, except to make our county look bad and create more conflict with office holders. How much better it would be if he had spent that time accomplishing something positive for our county or building positive relationships with other office holders and staff. But apparently that requires humility and leadership skills Nolte does not possess."
Read Nolte's declaration in its entirety below.
“Recently, it has become increasingly obvious the only way to end Clay County’s destructive cycle of political conflict is the immediate departure of Commissioners Ridgeway and Owen. The loss of a $280,000 Federal Grant for the Clay County Drug Task Force is just the latest consequence of their failed leadership. Ridgeway’s and Owen’s retaliatory attacks on law enforcement, their ongoing legal maneuvering to block the state audit, they have forced over $50,000,000 in new debt on citizens and running up ever-mounting legal bills, are unacceptable. Litigation is no substitute for leadership.
“We have all witnessed with disbelief and profound disappointment as Ridgeway and Owen’s arrogance, ignoring the voice of the people, has shattered the public’s trust in county government. Their actions cast a dark shadow on Clay County, causing continuous embarrassment to our citizens and made our county a laughing stock across the state.
“I do not call for their resignations lightly, but I believe Commissioner Ridgeway and Commissioner Owen have failed our citizens, and do more damage to Clay County with each passing day. Irresponsible spending, beginning with a $600 coffeemaker, has brought us to an unnecessary $20,000,000, new annex building. Members of the public have repeatedly attempted to redress their grievances over these abuses and others, only to be met with contempt.
“Ridgeway and Owen severely cut the Sheriff’s budget impacting the deputies who protect our families and refused to provide sufficient funds to fed and clothe detainees. The Clay County Circuit Court recently affirmed Ridgeway’s and Owen’s actions were, 'arbitrarily, capriciously and in bad faith to the extent they intentionally manipulated the budget process.' Ridgeway and Owen continue to waste tax money on legal actions, pursuing their retribution and petty political vendettas against the Sheriff and his deputies.
"Ridgeway and Owen continue to waste staggering amounts of tax payer dollars, on legal challenges to the state audit, obstructing the will of the people, in spite of a court decision and multiple subpoenas.
"Ridgeway and Owen have plunged Clay County taxpayers over $50,000,000 in debt for 20 years with no vote of the people and almost universal opposition by citizens. Most egregiously, $20,000,000 of that is earmarked for an unnecessary new annex building. Commissioner Owen specifically asked for the most expensive land available for the proposed site. Taxpayers will be stuck paying the bills for the next twenty years. Tax and spend is terrible. Borrow and spend without a plan for repayment, is even worse.
"Ridgeway and Owen voted, behind closed doors, to give themselves a back-pay settlement of about $64,000 each (I did not accept the offer and I refused any settlement). They voted to increase their own pay approximately 18%, then inappropriately delegated many of their official duties to unelected bureaucrats. Too much tax money is being spent for the benefit of a few.
"Ridgeway and Owen protected an employee charged with document tampering, even voting to cover their legal defense bills, at taxpayer expense. Altering official documents, compromising their integrity is a serious matter.
“In my opinion, their inappropriate behavior, dereliction of their sworn duties and contempt for the people render Ridgeway and Owen unfit to serve. For these reasons and others, I call on Commissioner Ridgeway and Commissioner Owen to resign immediately, so the process of healing and restoring the people’s trust can begin. If they choose to run for re-election, I urge citizens to reject them for further public office. Clay County can no longer afford them.”