Cover of Missouri Democrat Auditor Nicole Galloway Report on Greene County Commission

(The Center Square) – The Greene County Commission received an overall rating of “Poor” for its solicitation of legal services, disbursement of funds for legal expenses and use of email during a 2017 sales tax campaign, according to an audit released on Nov. 23 by Missouri Democrat Auditor Nicole Galloway.

The rating, the lowest possible, indicates a significant improvement in operations is necessary and numerous problems require immediate attention.

In December 2017, Galloway’s office received information through a whistleblower hotline regarding Greene County resources being used to promote passage of a sales tax. Galloway requested authority from the County Commission for her office to conduct an independent audit into the allegation. The County Commission denied the request. When the four-year terms of those commission members ended, newly elected commissioners requested an audit by Galloway.

“I appreciate the cooperation of the current Commission to bring this review to completion, after prolonged efforts by two former commissioners to prevent taxpayers from seeing how their tax dollars were used,” Galloway said in a statement announcing the report.

Allegations of election law violations were filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) after a sales tax issue came before voters in 2017. The MEC found Presiding Commissioner Robert Cirtin made expenditures from and deposited contribution checks into the political action committee’s accounts when he wasn’t the treasurer. It also found the treasurer failed to file timely and accurate campaign finance disclosure reports.

The audit found the County Commission didn’t enter into contracts for some legal services, but paid and reimbursed legal expenses of $25,684 to a law firm. The County Commission also didn’t enter a contract with a bond company for $64,470,000 in certificates of participation (COPS). The method of financing allows a local government to sell interests in the capital project, leases the project back from investors and repays the certificates with lease payments.

“It is unclear why the County Commissioner did not enter into a contract with the law firm and the bond counsel company,” the report stated. “It also is not clear why the county made payments and reimbursements for legal expenses to a law firm it had not contracted with when it had already contracted and paid another law firm to provide legal counsel and advice concerning the county’s MEC complaint.”

The audit found taxpayers paid $20,284 to a law firm for invoices sent to Cirtin at his personal address. The audit also discovered Cirtin approved a $5,400 reimbursement to himself for additional legal expenses that he initially personally paid to the same law firm.

Auditors found Cirtin used his official county email account to encourage other county employees to engage in campaign activity for the sales tax ballot initiative.

Greene County voters approved a half-cent sales tax in November, 2017 for general revenue purposes. The $64 million in COPS provided funding for expanding the Greene County Justice Center, renovations to the Judicial Courts Facility, and a new operations center to house the building operations and general services departments. The COPS are scheduled to be paid off in 2038, according to the audit.

The Greene County Commission voted in early 2019 to formally request Galloway audit the entire county government. The Greene County audit and the Greene County Sheriff audit each received a rating of “good,” second only to a rating of excellent.

Staff Reporter

Joe Mueller covers Missouri for The Center Square. After seven years of reporting for daily newspapers in Illinois and Missouri, he spent the next 30 years in public relations serving non-profit organizations and as a strategic communications consultant.