Two Christian County commissioners have admitted that they broke the law when they tried to hire a lawyer for the county and didn't follow proper procedure.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster settled a lawsuit filed against commissioners John Grubaugh and Tom Huff today.
As part of that settlement, Grubaugh and Huff must admit they violated the Sunshine Law by not publishing minutes of a meeting in which the hired an attorney for the county.
Grubaugh and Huff have agree to pay the maximum civil penalty of one thousand dollars. Part of that fine will be suspended as long as they complete training and send records of their meeting to the AG's office in Jefferson City every month.
As part of the settlement, Koster said the commissioners will participate in training sessions conducted by the Attorney General’s Office-- maintain a written Sunshine Law policy-- appoint a specific employee to monitor compliance of the Sunshine Law-- and send meeting notices and meeting minutes to the AG's office every month.
FULL PRESS RELEASE:
Christian County Commissioners John Grubaugh and Tom Huff announced today they have reached a settlement with Attorney General Chris Koster's office.
A civil lawsuit alleging violations of the Sunshine Act in connection with the appointment of the County Counselor was filed against Commissioners Grubaugh, Huff and Bill Barnett on February 23, 2007.
Barnett entered into a separate settlement agreement and was dismissed from the lawsuit shortly after it was filed. "We believed it was in the best interest of Christian County to get this case resolved and finished. The County Commission is and has been fully committed to openness and transparency, and it is fully committed to complying with the Sunshine Law. It made no sense from our side or from the Attorney General's side, to continue with the case due to the time, legal expense and distraction from productive work that cases like this always cause," said Grubaugh.
The terms of the settlement were basically the same as the terms of the settlement between Barnett and the Attorney General's office.
According to the Settlement Agreement, Grubaugh and Huff admitted the agenda notice of the meeting where the County Counselor was appointed was insufficient, and the minutes of the meeting where the appointment occurred did not include a description of the vote that was taken.
"The agenda notice of the meeting where the County Counselor was appointed, stated that it was an 'office holders meeting', rather than specifically for the appointment of a County Counselor," said Huff. "It should have said that it was for appointment of the County Counselor."
"The meeting was attended by members of the public, by most of the county officeholders and members of the press, but the agenda notice should have been more specific," Huff said. "We are now very specific in our descriptions of the items on our agenda.
" The minutes of the meeting were taken by a deputy in the office of Kay Brown, County Clerk.
The final minutes were not prepared until three weeks after the meeting, when it was discovered they did not contain a description of the vote that was taken to appoint the County Counselor.
All three Commissioners acknowledged that a vote was taken on December 28, 2006 to appoint a County Counselor, but a description of the vote was not included in the minutes prepared by the clerk's office.
"There has been no dispute about the contents of the agenda notice of the meeting, or the minutes, from the beginning of this case," said Grubaugh. "In fact, as soon as we were aware the motion was not included in the minutes, we treated the appointment as null and void, and placed the issue back on the agenda. I wish the Attorney General's office had given us the opportunity to resolve this matter before any lawsuit was filed, but that didn't happen. Instead, the Attorney General's office filed the case without notice, issued press releases about the case, and refused to settle it until now," Grubaugh said.
In January of this year, Chris Koster replaced now-Governor Jay Nixon as the Missouri Attorney General.
Under the terms of the settlement, Grubaugh and Huff will pay a One Hundred Dollar ($100) fine-the same as Commissioner Barnett.
The case is being dismissed with no other admissions of violations of the Sunshine Act.
"We are glad this issue is resolved and over," said John Grubaugh. "This allows us to devote our full time and attention to the pressing needs of Christian County and its residents," Grubaugh stated. "We welcome any member of the public or the press to attend our meetings and become involved in all of the things the County Commission is doing, and I think you will be impressed with all of the projects we have going in the county and the way the Commission is managing those projects for the benefit of all Christian County residents."