The Buzz

Clay County tried to stop state audit demanded by citizens. Judge rejects motion

A judge on Monday rejected an attempt by the Clay County Commission to stop Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway’s investigation into county financial records and concerns brought forward by whistleblowers .

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem denied Clay County’s request for a preliminary injunction, noting that any subpoenas issued by Galloway as part of her inquiry would still need to be enforced by a court.

Beetem did not rule on a motion to dismiss the county’s lawsuit. Attorneys from both sides will reconvene with the judge next month.

Galloway’s audit, which began in December, was initiated after a local citizen’s group submitted a petition with more than 9,000 signatures requesting that Galloway examine the county’s financial records.

Residents had raised concerns about questionable spending, allegations of corruption, waste of taxpayer dollars and lack of compliance with the state’s Sunshine Law.

Galloway said county officials have resisted her audit with “delays, roadblocks and evasive responses,” so she issued a subpoena requesting that Assistant County Administrator Nicole Brown appear at the auditor’s Kansas City office and turn over all minutes from all county commission meetings from the last two years, as well as records kept on smartphones, computers and other devices.

The Clay County Commission immediately answered back with a lawsuit, saying Galloway is overstepping her constitutional authority. In a hearing last month, an attorney for the county argued that Galloway demanded access to records beyond her purview, such as minutes from closed meetings and documents containing attorney-client privileged material.

Galloway celebrated the judge’s ruling.

“The Clay County Commission has repeatedly tried to stall this audit,” Galloway said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “With today’s ruling, the audit citizens demanded will continue.”

But a spokesman for the county said Monday’s ruling did not resolve the underlying question at the heart of the case -- whether Galloway has the authority to subpoena the wide range of documents she is seeking.

“This decision resolves only a question of timing rather than the merit of the auditor’s subpoena,” said Payton Docheff, spokesman for the county. He later added: “Clay County awaits further opinions of the court on the validity of the State Auditor’s subpoena, which was not addressed in today’s order. In the meantime, county staff continue to cooperate with the State Auditor on lawful and reasonable requests.”

Related stories from Kansas City Star

Jason Hancock is The Star’s lead political reporter, providing coverage of government and politics on both sides of the state line. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he has written about politics for more than a decade for news organizations across the Midwest.