Missouri attorney general declines action against Cass County clerk

The Missouri attorney general’s office declined Wednesday to take action against Cass County Clerk Janet Burlingame.

A county auditor’s report accused Burlingame of breaking the state’s nepotism law and of violating pay rules by giving election-duty bonuses to employees in her office.

Any action against Burlingame now rests with county Prosecutor Teresa Hensley. On Wednesday, a spokesperson in Hensley’s office said the case remains “under review.”

The accusations against the longtime county clerk came from county Auditor Ron Johnson, who says an audit shows that Burlingame, a Democrat, hired her husband and son to transport voting equipment for elections between 2003 and April 2010. According to the audit, Burlingame’s husband was paid more than $5,500 and her son more than $1,600.

The audit also alleged that Burlingame awarded more than $56,000 in bonuses to four staffers for election duties they were expected to do anyway. By paying the bonuses outside the W-2 payroll system, appropriate taxes and state pension obligations may not have been paid.

The attorney general’s office, headed by Democrat Chris Koster, declined to act on the nepotism charges, saying state law does not provide for the removal of an office holder for conduct during a previous term. Burlingame’s current term started in January 2011.

In a letter to Johnson, J. Andrew Hirth, deputy counsel for Koster’s office, said the department had no jurisdiction over such alleged actions. His letter also included Johnson’s job description as county auditor.

“Based on that legal duty, we assume that your office approved each of these additional payments to county employees,” Hirth wrote Johnson.

Only a few of the payments took place after Johnson took office in January 2011.

Johnson, a Republican, disparaged the decision.

“I believe that this letter from Attorney General Koster sets the stage for potential corruption in local government from school boards through the highest positions in Missouri government,” Johnson said.

The controversy shows the political reach of local issues.

Koster served as Cass County prosecutor from 1994 to 2004. During that time, he was a Republican. He switched to the Democratic Party about five years ago.

In becoming county clerk in 2002, Burlingame, who had worked in the office as a staffer for more than 20 years, succeeded Gary Mallory, who is now treasurer of Koster’s re-election campaign.

Hensley, a Democrat, is running for Congress in Missouri’s 4th District against incumbent Vicky Hartzler.