Archive for October 2007

No dry “writ” at the courthouse

October 30, 2007

Judge Craig Carter dismissed without prejudice Ernest O’Gaffney’s writ of mandamus against the county commissioners trying to force them to turn over county records to the custody of the county clerk.
According to court documents, the judge ruled that O’Gaffney, the relator in the suit, had no legal standing on which to seek remedy  via a writ of mandamus. The judgment and order does not speak to the issue of whether the county commission is or is not complying with the statute that makes the county clerk the legal custodian of the county’s records.
The judge ruled that O’Gaffney did not meet the requirements cited in Moynihan v. Gunn (Mo. App. E. D. 2006) those including “pecuniary loss attributable to the challenged action…
“…(N)owhere has the Relator either alleged or proven that he has or will suffer any of the elements stated in Moynihan as a result of the Respondents’ actions,” the order said.

And he agreed with the county’s position that O’Gaffney had another legal remedy available in suing the county for violating the Sunshine Law, which he is doing.
“Accordingly, the Court holds that the Relator has no standing to bring the present case,” the order said.

Attorneys in the case argued in court Oct. 23 and Carter, coming in from Douglas County, took it under advisement. O’Gaffney said he may take the decision to the appellate court.
In a news release from the county Oct. 30, Presiding Commissioner John Grubaugh said the judgment vindicates the county’s position.
“This is a complete win for the county, and this lawsuit should never have been filed in the first place,” he said . “I hope this clears away the smoke screen of baseless and politically motivated allegations, so the citizens can see the real accomplishments in Christian County.”
Grubaugh then seizes the opportunity in the news release to cite six county accomplishments—including taking credit for the implementation of county-wide building codes. As one county resident put it: “We did everything but hold a gun to his head to get building codes in the county.”

He did not, however, take credit for the Chadwick ball field parking lot.

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Terrell Creek developer takes a turn for the best

October 30, 2007

Steve Redford, president of Missouri Partners, Inc., and developer of the Terrell Creek property in western Christian County, took a turn for the best when he revealed what he called his final plans for the subdivision last week. As  he presented it, the development will take into account sound environmental practices. He’s reduced the rooftops, included greenspace and wants to build a wastewater treatment plant that will have zero discharge.
The plant will be owned, maintained and operated by Ozarks Clean Water Company that enjoys a good reputation  in the area for environmentally superior sewer management systems. Certainly preferable to municipal sewer systems and septic tanks that over time almost always fail.
This gives the county an opportunity to revisit their regulations against those decentralized systems and make its standards flexible to include this kind of good stewardship.
Redford seems to have gotten the message that he has an opportunity to develop one of the most beautiful pieces of land into something that can blend growth with progress and utilize methods that minimize man’s impact on man’s environment. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that Redford could again change plans, as he is prone to do. And if not scrutinized, as he said he would surely be, those environmental standards could be compromised. There was no mention of a golf course that would certainly change the environmental impact from minimal to maximum with one stroke. However the schematic that he provided to the newspaper for reproduction carries the mark of a golf course designer. Hopefully that does not portend problems, but certainly is cause for caution.
Redford’s entitled to the benefit of the doubt because his latest plan appears as though he has “digested” much of the information generated by the controversial development over the years. He’s also entitled to make money from the project.
County P&Z is also right to expect that Redford complies with county regulations on this and any other development in the county.
The EPA has not yet issued a compliance order regarding a consent decree entered by MPI in April for inadequate storm water plans in the development as it stands today, resulting from the road construction.
A big nod must go to the county and its attorney Don Busch for standing up to MPI in their lawsuit against the corporation in noting that selling off 20-acre ranchettes on the 2,000-acre parcel did indeed change its land use. And that he couldn’t proceed without county oversight.
Redford is doing the right thing now and that’s most likely why.

Former commissioner muses over musings

October 29, 2007

Roy Matthews, former presiding commissioner in Christian County and husband of the current treasurer, Karen Matthews, said he isn’t surprised that the gravelgate episode supplied fodder for critics in scrutinizing his term of office that ended in 2002. He chose not to run again.

The rest of the story, he said in an update to this  blog, is that he asked a couple of road employees, one a fellow church member to help in remove trees from the church’s property;  Matthews asked Tom Chudomelka, eastern commissioner at the time, for permission and it was done—off the clock—but with a county bucket truck. He said in hindsight he realizes it wasn’t the correct decision. The road employees  took the wood home, he said. That evidence is probably burned by now.

Gadfly said he would “evaporate” if Grubaugh and Huff obeyed the law

October 29, 2007

Back at it again today, Ernest O’Gaffney took issue with the commission’s position of not having to bid out certain services performed for the county: County counselor, CPA auditing firm and engineers. He contends that legal decisions saying professional services are exempt from the bidding only pertain to unique services that cannot be performed by anybody else.

“No bid contracts are illegal and could be held null and void,” he said. “There’s nothing unique about attorneys or engineers. This has been going on for years—what’s the problem? Obey the law—if you would do that I would evaporate.”

His promise to evaporate came after Treasurer Karen Matthews ask the commission for permission to grant accounting procedural changes regarding the Collector’s sales tax surplus fund—which they granted with a nod of approval from Auditor Sam Yarnell.
Yarnell said later in the afternoon that she’s always had the understanding that professional services were exempt from the bidding
process. The question may invite a definitive legal ruling—to which, O’Gaffney would say he has one.

O’Gaffney also raised the question again about the county needing a purchasing agent. Yarnell also said the audit’s mention of inadequate purchasing and biding practices were answered when the county bid out office supplies this year. Yarnell said she agreed with Grubaugh that the county did not need a purchasing agent but Commissioner Bill Barnett disagrees and said he wants a purchasing agent but cannot act alone.

O’Gaffney revisited his request to get a copy of the contract with Great River Engineering, but no contract seems to exist. The engineering firm has worked with the county for years.

At this posting there is no word from the court on the Writ of Mandamus filed by O’Gaffney; and so far no word on whether there will be anymore fallout over “gravelgate.”

Full county agenda for Monday, Oct. 29

October 26, 2007

The agenda for the commissioners Monday meeting is as follows:

9 a.m. Dodee Matthews – Ozark Parks and Recreation – Re: Greenways Trail
10 a.m. Phil Amtower – EMA Director – Re: EOP (Emergency Operations Plan) Signing
1 p.m. Karen Matthews – Treasurer, Re: Accounting Procedural Changes and Corrections
2 p.m. Ernest O’Gaffney – Re: Recent Audit Conducted by Davis, Lynn and Moots

For those of you who have an interest in county government, there’s a menu here from which to choose.

The cat’s not in the hat, it’s in Sparta

October 24, 2007

It was first reported on the radio and then KOLR 10 picked up the story today about a mountain lion in Sparta.
A Sparta police officer apparently spotted the feline near the Sparta Post Office about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 21. Even though the folks at the Missouri Department of Conservation say it is highly unlikely, it is possible. And, the officer, who said he is a hunter and knows the difference between a mountain lion and a bobcat and an over fed Tom, is certain of what he saw.
So, Christian Countians, it may be wise not to let smaller pets roam free at night and to be careful when calling “kitty, kitty, kitty,” you may get just a bit more than you asked for.
Check out the news story posted at http://www.christiancountyheadliner.com for the facts. That story should be available by 5 p.m. today.

Dry ‘writ’ at courthouse

October 23, 2007

Ernie O’Gaffney had at least part of his day in court this morning when Douglas County Judge Craig Carter took under advisement the Writ of Mandamus attorney James Owen filed against the county on behalf of O’Gaffney. The writ, if successful, would compel the Christian County Commission to obey state law and its own resolution by giving custody of its records to County Clerk Kay Brown.
That assumes that the commission is out of compliance with the statute that says the Clerk of the County Commission is the custodian of records. Attorney Todd Johnson argued for two of the county commissioners, presiding John Grubaugh and associate Tom Huff, that they are not out of compliance. He said that Brown has access to all the records as needed.
Brown has contended in the past that she is responsible for the records and cannot adequately fulfill her duties as custodian of those records because she does not have custody of them. She must access the records that sit inside the commission chambers through Grubaugh rather than independently. She does record meetings and take minutes—that began in February when she relieved the commission secretary of those duties.

Johnson argued that the public is being well-served and that if an open records request is not fulfilled the Sunshine Law provides for a legal remedy. In other words the public has a right to sue. Which is pretty much what O’Gaffney has done–with this writ and another suit charging Sunshine violations. Included in that suit is a forgery complaint—where white-out was used to post date a document and Associate Commissioner Bill Barnett’s signature appeared when it shouldn’t or couldn’t have (because he was on sick leave.)

The broader picture here is that it should not be incumbent on the public to sue for access to public records. And the county shouldn’t be spending money on attorneys who instruct them on how to circumvent the Sunshine Law rather than openly complying with it. The Sunshine Law does not mandate that any records be closed, it only allows for that in narrowly construed instances.
Open records are in the public’s interest. Open the vault and let the sun shine in!