The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Excelsior Springs Standard.
Editor’s note: This letter is in response to an open letter to the residents of Clay County, written by Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway.
An article on the letter and the Clay County Commission’s response appeared on the front page of the Sept. 20, 2019, edition of The Standard. The letter in its entirety can be read at auditor.mo.gov/content/open-letter-citizens-clay-county
We keep waiting for the State Auditor to come back to work in Clay County but since February 2019, she has been AWOL. An early 2019 press statement from the Auditor said the audit remains in progress. So where’s the progress? The Auditor is hiding behind the false accusation that the county has obstructed her work. But the facts don’t support that at all. And there is no lawsuit to “stop” the audit.
Here are facts that demonstrate Clay County’s prompt cooperation with the audit requests:
On Dec. 19, 2018, the audit team arrived in Clay County, left on Jan. 31, 2019, and, to my knowledge, they have not returned.
There were 43 calendar days the auditors requested information, including weekends, holidays and weather-related closures. Over 35 separate requests for data were made from the State Auditor to Clay County plus a request for confidential office space (all provided at Clay County expense).
As requested, auditors were given 83 separate documents comprising over 1,300 pages with over 300,500 data lines. One data transfer alone included a complete data transfer of the county’s general ledger financial system (Eden) that contained over 278,000 lines of individual financial transactions.
To date, it is estimated that over 200 hours have been spent by county employees to provide data, provide tours or otherwise respond or be available for interviews. This is an additional and on-going cost on top of whatever amount the State Auditor charges for the audit.
The average response time (excluding two or three disputed requests) was less than 5 calendar days. So on average, if the audit team requested data on Thursday, it was delivered by Clay County the following Monday.
How can the Auditor honestly dub this an “unprecedented level of obstruction?”
The Missouri Constitution says that the Auditor has the authority to audit the “receipt and expenditure of public funds”. Missouri Constitution Article IV, Section 13. However, at one point, the Auditor demanded data unrelated to the “receipt and expenditure of public funds” potentially placing the county at risk of releasing employee information protected by federal and state law.
The County tried to informally resolve this request but the Auditor refused to listen to any of our very valid concerns. Because of the Auditor’s total unwillingness to compromise, the only option was to seek a Judge’s opinion of what the Missouri Constitutional boundaries are upon the State Auditor.
The crux of the pending lawsuit is very narrow. It does not seek to “stop” the audit. Rather, it asks the Judge’s opinion about whether only a couple of the auditor’s more than 35 demands on the County are within her State Constitutional authority.
Even after the lawsuit was filed, the County continued efforts to compromise with the Auditor. The County offered to produce all records with a redaction only of topics unrelated to the “receipt and expenditure of public funds.” The County’s offer was flatly rejected, even though it would have allowed the Auditor to continue with her work and leave only a sliver of records to be ruled upon by the Judge.
The County is therefore left with few options. If we bow to the Auditor’s demand to produce information that may otherwise be protected by state and/or federal law and attorney-client privilege, the county is in jeopardy of being sued for releasing protected information (including employee HIPPA info). The Auditor says the county’s objections are unfounded because she is restricted from releasing data produced by the county. But even if we could trust that the Auditor would not release this data, it does not mean that the County can or must release it to her. We have a legitimate dispute with the Auditor over the limits placed on her authority by the Missouri Constitution, so we do not believe that seeking an interpretation of the Constitution is “obstruction.”
Speaking of obstruction, why hasn’t the Auditor followed Missouri law (RSMo 29.235.4 (2)) that requires her to ask a Judge about enforcing her administrative subpoena — which she has not done? Is she worried a Judge will tell her she’s asking for information for which she has no constitutional authority?
Why hasn’t the auditor issued any audit findings on the hundreds and thousands of financial documents and transactions already provided to her?
Does this have anything to do with the Auditor’s recent announcement that she is running for Governor? Is she delaying so she can make political statements about Clay County in a major media market just prior to the 2020 election?
The Auditor says she’s frustrated. Well, she’s not the only one.
For the Best Clay County,
Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway
State of Missouri - County of Clay
As always, I welcome your feedback on this or any other area of government concern to you. You may reply to this Report at LuannRidgeway@gmail.com
**This report is not paid for at government or taxpayer expense**