State Auditor Nicole Galloway said despite a judge’s ruling that Clay County should pay for her office’s costs in a lawsuit against her office that was dismissed, county residents have paid enough in lawyers’ fees to date and will not be charged for her office’s legal costs to defend the suit. Nicole Gallowayc9af10da-470c-5ee7-a5eb-a03b7beb96718190523_ct_sch_stateauditmycouriertribune.com0

CLAY COUNTY — In an open letter to Clay County residents dated Friday, Nov. 1, State Auditor Nicole Galloway said taxpayers will not have to pay for her office’s costs in the county’s lawsuit against her office despite a judge’s ruling in the case.

“Last week, the Clay County Commission’s lawsuit seeking to block a citizen-mandated audit of county government was dismissed. This was a major victory for taxpayers. The court’s ruling allows the audit to move forward so that we can get the answers you deserve. As with all audits, my team will be professional, deliberate and thorough,” Galloway wrote in the letter. “While the court’s judgment orders that costs of this lawsuit be charged to the county, our office will not be charging the county in this matter. For nearly a year, my office spent significant time and resources in this fight. Taxpayers have already paid enough for the private attorneys hired by the county for this litigation, and you should not have to pay more.”

In late October, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem dismissed the suit filed by the county contending Galloway overstepped her authority in requesting certain information from the county as part of a state audit of the county initiated by citizen petition.

The commission’s chief complaint was the state auditor requested closed meeting minute records, according to court documents. The suit claimed such a request is unconstitutional because it is indicative of a “performance audit” and not restricted to a financial post-audit of transactions.

In his judgment, Beetem wrote, “the court further finds that there is nothing per se unconstitutional about a records request. If there is content in such records that should not be disclosed, such an issue is properly raised in a proceeding to enforce an administrative subpoena.”

Galloway, in a statement from her office, said the court’s order confirms the auditor’s legal authority to conduct performance audits.

“Since the summer of 2018, thousands of citizens have consistently expressed support for this audit. Many of you shared general and specific concerns about the county’s priorities and decisions. In addition, we received multiple whistleblower complaints about financial waste, potential fraud and rampant mismanagement throughout county operations. We take such allegations seriously and, where credible, we will pursue these leads during our audit to get to the facts. In the coming weeks and months, I ask that you keep my office informed about what else you may hear and any additional details pertinent to this audit,” Galloway stated in the letter to Clay Countians.

Galloway said her office is aware of possible intimidation and retaliation concerns among county employees and assures those in the county that calls made to the whistleblower line are confidential.

“If you contact us as a whistleblower, your identity is protected by law. ... No one should be reluctant to speak out against improper or illegal use of taxpayer money,” she said.

Presiding Clay County Commissioner Jerry Nolte said he would need to check with legal counsel to see how the logistics of the state auditor’s legal fees would be addressed in regard to not being charged to the county, but if allowed to not be laid at the feet of Clay County taxpayers, he said he would be appreciative and happy about the option.

Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway said Galloway’s letter may be misleading and may lead county taxpayers to believe Galloway is attempting to save them large sums of money, but that may not be the case as court costs and attorney’s fees are different and the auditor’s letter is not specific about which it refers to. Attorney’s fees, Ridgeway said, are more than court costs.

Ridgeway added the county has requested documentation from the auditor’s office about attorney’s fees spent in regard to the county’s suit, but the office has yet to provide such documentation.

Requests for clarification from Galloway’s office on the costs and if those mentioned in her letter to Clay Countians referred to all costs, attorney’s fees or court costs have yet to be returned.

Managing Editor Amanda Lubinski can be reached at amanda.lubinski@mycouriertribune.com or 903-6001.