Home / Clay County / Legal Petition Brought against Commissioners Owen and Ridgeway for Illegal Use of Public Funds

Legal Petition Brought against Commissioners Owen and Ridgeway for Illegal Use of Public Funds

TheNorthlandNews.com received a tip last night that there was a case filed in Clay County Circuit Court dealing with Commissioners Ridgeway and Owen.

If you go to Missouri Case.net (https://www.courts.mo.gov/casenet/base/welcome.do) and search by last name you’ll find this case that was filed on April 25, 2016:

16CY-CV03492 – GARY S MARKENSON V LUANN RIDGEWAY ET AL (E-CASE)

The 8 page petition was filed by Liberty attorney Steven Wolcott on behalf of Gladstone resident Gary Markenson. The petition alleges misuse of county tax dollars stemming from birthday cards, “accountability cards,” and coupons for Jesse James Farm and Museum that were sent to Clay County citizens.

In 2013, Commissioners Owen and Ridgeway along with former presiding Commissioner Pam Mason discussed ways to improve the public relations of the Commission with the County. In March, Assistant County Administrator Nicole Brown, on behalf of Commissioners, asked the IT director to obtain public records of registered voters from the Clay County Board of Election Commissioners. The request was for regular voters born between 1946-1950 who had voted in at least one general election.

Exhibit A

It was determined that the list would generate 1,000 names per month that would meet the criteria. Commissioners Owen and Ridgeway determined to mail birthday cards to those targeted voters in their respective districts.

The specific purpose of the cards were confirmed through an email from Nicole Brown to Presiding Commissioner Pam Mason:

 

exhibit b

According to the petition, then County Counselor Matt Thompson informed the Commissioners that this would be a violation of Article 6, Sections 23 and 25 of the Missouri Constitution. Section 23 limits grants of public money or thing of value to or in aid of any individual with exceptions. Section 25 specifically prohibits expenditures of public funds for private purposes.

The Commissioners additionally discussed providing a free ticket or coupon for a county park (Jesse James Farm & Museum) that would be sent with each mailing. According to the petition County Counselor Donald Norris issued a written opinion (04-25-16 Exhibit C) advising against targeting-limited mailing and instead place the tickets in each county tax bill so that all taxpayers would benefit equally.

In total, $10,000 was expended on the mailing ($9,000 for the birthday cards, and $1,000 for postage). In May 2014, the County spent $3,537.19 for cards, $392.50 for Owen’s insert, and $181.00 on Ridgeway’s business cards. In October 2014, the County spent $2,193.58 for Owen’s cards and inserts.

The process changed from birthday to accountability cards and have been sent as recently as April 2016.

TheNorthlandNews.com was provided a copy of one of the mailers in question by a concerned taxpayer weeks ago:

Mailer 1 (364x500)
Bi-fold “Accountability Card” Insert
Mailer 2 (364x500)
Bi-fold “Accountability” Insert Inside
Mailer Insert 1 (364x500)
Insert with Jesse James coupon and Ridgeway business card.
Backside of insert with coupons.
Backside of insert with coupons.

Then Presiding Commissioner Pam Mason did not participate in the mailing. Current Presiding Commissioner Nolte has not participated either.

The petition is being brought to ask for a declaratory judgement on whether the cards do in fact violate the state constitution. If declared unconstitutional, the writ asks for the funds and lost revenue to Jesse James Farm and Museum to be repaid. Additionally, if deemed unconstitutional, the petition asks for criminal charges to be brought against Commissioners Owen and Ridgeway.

You can read the full petition by clicking HERE.

TheNorthlandNews.com has not yet sought comment from Commissioners Owen and Ridgeway. We will publish any comment they wish to issue.

 

About Andrew Palmer

One comment

  1. As the elected official charged with collecting the tax bills of Clay County residents, the allegations in this suit make me sick to my stomach. As a Republican, I have always been proud to collect a tax I believe to be truly fair–a flat percentage for all. And I am proud to look at all the accomplishments of the Northland’s schools, cities, senior services, disabilities assistance programs, and so many other worthy services, and know that in some small part, my efforts go a long way toward ensuring these entities have the funding they need. But I want to take a moment here to sincerely apologize to those in the demographic targeted by the mailings referenced in this suit–some of which are the County’s most vulnerable citizens–because I have no choice but to enforce their tax bills, even knowing that these people are being forced to pay for their own birthday cards, and other types of “advertising” using public funds. As I try to calm angry taxpayers across my counter, as I attend court hearings where people’s wages are being garnished to pay taxes, and especially as we prepare for the annual tax sale, please know that my office is sympathetic to the anger this news must cause. I must enforce the tax bills because so many entities use their money for the right things, and the rule of law means something to me. But I am truly sorry to hear that any of the money I collect is being so blatantly mismanaged. Local government is truly “of the people.” There is no level of government where a single voice can effect more change. All I can do is let you know I understand, and urge you to channel your anger toward productive and proactive choices.