More than a dozen Clay County residents gathered at the Fletcher Daniels State Office Building in Kansas City on Friday to hand over a stack of papers to Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway.
But it wasn’t just any stack of papers. They contained the signatures of more than 9,000 citizens who are calling out their county government on allegations of corruption, wasting taxpayer dollars and not upholding the state’s sunshine laws.
“Our county has been screwed up for 30 years,” said chief petitioner Jason Withington. “And they just keep kicking the can down the road and we keep having the same problems, so this is definitely a watershed moment in Clay County history.
“It’s our county and it’s time for us to take it back.”
This year, the Missouri State Auditor's Office has received more than a dozen whistleblower contacts related to Clay County.
Once the signatures are validated by the county’s election board, the office can begin a performance audit that would not only look into the county’s financial records but also its processes and specific concerns brought forward by whistleblowers.
More specifically, Galloway said Friday, auditors would look at contracts, bidding practices, compliance with laws, purchasing
card expenditures, and sunshine law compliance, among other things.
The signatures, which far surpass the 5,590 minimum requirement, will have to be validated by the county election board before an audit can take place.
Galloway’s office handles many petition initiatives from citizens. But what makes this unusual, she said, is the number of signatures gathered.
“It’s clear from talking to these folks, it’s clear from the whistleblower calls, that people are demanding transparency, they’re demanding accountability and answers from their local government,” she said as she met with petitioners Friday morning.
“That is a high threshold and large number of signatures… These citizens put in a substantial amount of personal time and personal resources.”
The county was last audited by the state in 1990.
The petition highlights not only a divide between citizens and their government but a divide among county officials themselves, with some signing it, and others rebuking it. More than 70 former and current elected officials have signed the petition, but two commissioners and a few other elected officials have not.
Opponents say they think the audit will cost too much and is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Galloway’s office estimates the audit will cost $100,000 to $150,000 based on the costs of other audits done for other counties of similar size and scope, and may take up to a year to complete.
If the office finds illegal activities, it will refer them to the appropriate law enforcement agency, be it the Missouri Highway Patrol, the Attorney General's office or the FBI.
Galloway, who is seeking re-election as state auditor in November, said that once the signatures are validated, under state law the auditor's office is required to perform the audit.
Now, the lead group of petitioners, calling themselves Citizens for a Better Clay County, will wait for the verification as the next step begins. They said the group will remain non-partisan and will look at opportunities for voter education and turnout in the coming months.
“We’re not going to let this momentum die,” Withington said.