Government & Politics

Clay County resists scrutiny by Missouri State Auditor, both issue warring statements

A contentious back-and-forth between the Missouri State Auditor’s Office and the Clay County Commission continued this week as the two offices issued contradictory statements on the status of a subpoena for records issued by the auditor’s office to the Northland county.

On Monday the county government released a written statement saying Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway had agreed to halt the subpoena. The statement referred to a court order to not to enforce the subpoena during a lawsuit the county filed opposing the auditor.

That agreement, the commission said, validated its concerns that the audit was an overreach of Galloway’s power.

“This agreement,” the county commission statement said, “reached 24 hours after the Auditor issued her subpoena, undercuts the Auditor’s claim that her requests were ‘routine’ or ‘normal.’ Rather, it shows that the County’s concerns about constitutional overreach are real, and that the constitutional issues at stake should be decided by an impartial judge in a courtroom, not by a single politician in Jefferson City.”

Soon after, Galloway’s office answered back, calling the county’s statement “grossly inaccurate” and adding that the subpoena had not been halted. Galloway has previously said county officials are not cooperating with the audit.

“Today’s legal action took place to ensure the case could proceed efficiently,” the auditor’s office said in its own statement. “It is concerning that the Clay County Commission would mislead citizens and the media in this way. The Auditor is confident in her legal authority and remains diligent as she works to get answers for taxpayers.”

The 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, wasting of taxpayer dollars and not upholding state’s Sunshine Law.

With the audit, which was expected to take up to a year to complete and cost up to $150,000, Galloway said she would look into county contracts, bidding practices, compliance with laws, purchasing card expenditures, Sunshine Law compliance and other issues.

Late last month, Galloway said her office faced resistance from county officials and she issued the county a subpoena for records.

“Within the first six weeks of this process, my team has encountered delays, roadblocks and evasive responses that make it challenging to complete audit work in a cost-effective way on behalf of the taxpayers of Clay County,” Galloway said in a statement.

The subpoena requested that Assistant County Administrator Nicole Brown appear at Galloway’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 smart phones, computers and other devices.

Clay County officials responded to the subpoena by filing a lawsuit alleging that some of Galloway’s requests fall outside of the state auditor’s authority.

In Clay County’s lawsuit, a Cole County judge issued an order stating that Galloway’s subpoena will not be enforced until the court makes a further decision.

The audit is the first of Clay County since 1990.

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Aaron Randle is the Star’s “Divided City” enterprise reporter, tasked with exploring the cultural intersections that shape — and divide — Kansas City and Kansas Citians.