CLAY COUNTY — A majority of the Clay County Commission adjourned a special session without action to restore the Clay County Sheriff’s Office budget Monday, Sept. 9, after a judge found in favor of Sheriff Paul Vescovo in his lawsuit against the county.
The 30-minute meeting got off to a contentious start when Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway questioned the legality of the meeting as it pertains to compliance with Missouri’s open records law. Ridgeway said she did not believe there had been proper notice of the meeting and that she did not receive an agenda and did not see one posted in the county Administration Building on the Liberty Square where other meeting notices are posted.
Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte said he advised County Clerk’s Office personnel to post the meeting notice within the five days required and he also had the notice posted, as required by law, in five prominent locations throughout the county.
Nolte said he also advised an assistant county administrator to provide notice and copies of the agenda to both Ridgeway and Western Commissioner Gene Owen.
“I think it’s compliant with the Sunshine Law,” Nolte said.
Vescovo sued the county and its three commissioners this spring following cuts made to his office’s proposed operating budget.
The sheriff sought $1.75 million from the 2019 Clay County General Fund Budget to cover obligations and shortfalls related to the responsibilities of his office, as well as legal fees and damages. The court found in favor of the sheriff with the exemption of legal fees, which were not awarded to the sheriff’s office.
Judge Daren Adkins ordered the County Commission to allocate an additional $755,152 to provide for food and health care for detention center detainees for the remainder of 2019 and to allocate an additional $230,218 for administrative costs of the county jail.
According to court documents, as of the date of the trial, vendor bills totaling more than $145,000 for inmate medical and dental care had gone unpaid.
After the finding was released last week, the county’s legal firm Husch Blackwell, on behalf of the county and Commissioners Owen and Ridgeway, filed an appeal. The firm does not represent Nolte in the matter.
County Counselor Lowell Pearson said, based on correspondence from the appeals court, it appears the findings of Adkins were not a final judgment.
In a timeline agreed to by parties involved, including the sheriff’s office legal counsel and Nolte’s, Pearson said, the hope was the appeals court would hear arguments in early October and have a conclusion by mid-October.
“I understand time is of the essence here. But, is important to note that the schedule that I outline has been agreed to by counsel for the sheriff and counsel for the presiding commissioner. This is not something that we are doing, we meaning Husch Blackwell on behalf of Commissioners Ridgeway and Owen and the county, this is all the lawyers for everybody ... ,” said Pearson.
After a 20-minute debate about the legality of the meeting, Ridgeway motioned for adjournment, stating the proposed action was the subject of a pending appeal, the meeting may not have been properly noticed and because Adkin’s judgment seemed unfinished per the appeals court.
When asked if jail operations could continue while the appeal was pending, Vescovo said it was up to the vendors.
“That would depend on if the vendors — who haven’t been paid now since June for food and health care — if they would continue to provide those services. I can’t say for sure. We’ve been in contact with them, but I can’t say for sure,” he said.
The vote to adjourn passed 2-1 with Nolte voting against.