Clark Co. Commissioners Purchase Property Without Recorded Vote
By Mike Scott
Ground work began recently at the site of the new Clark County Road and Bridge facility, to be located on the east side of Highway 81, less than a quarter mile south of Highway 136. This week, county workers were busy draining standing water from and hauling rock onto the four-acre site, which was purchased by the county on May 6 from Gary and Carol Trump for $50,000.
Questions are being asked about the county’s acquisition of the land.
Gary and Carol Trump contracted to purchase a 34.53 acre tract from the Leland and Lavola Hobson Revocable Trust for $100,000, according to a contract dated September 30, 2009, which was filed in the Clark County Recorder’s Office on March 30, 2010. The land transfer listings, received this week from County Recorder Mary Jones’ office, report that Gary and Carol Trump purchased a four-acre tract in the NW ¼ of 30-65-7, and on the same day sold a four-acre tract in the same section to Clark County, Missouri. That four acres is part of the contracted 34.53 acres, and is the only land transfer recorded so far.
Jones confirmed that it was the same parcel of land which was bought and
then sold to Clark County on May 6.
Trumps’ contract to purchase the land specifically gives them right to enter into a lease with the option to purchase a portion of the property with a third party.
So when did the Clark County Commissioners decide to relocate the Road and Bridge facility, and when and how did they acquire the property?
An examination of the minutes of the Clark County Commission meetings shows only one entry concerning the purchase of the land.
On May 6, 2010 the minutes state: “In the Matter of Land Transfer: Commissioners Paul E. Allen, Roger Sedore and Jerry Neyens went to Prosecuting Attorney H Scott Summers office and met with him and Gary and Carol Trump in regard to the contract for real estate. The Clark County Commission will be purchasing four (4) acres of ground from them on the east side of Highway 81 south of the Highway 136 intersection. This will be the future Road and Bridge Department facility."
According to Clark County Clerk Leih Ann Hayden, there is no other mention of the plan to move the Road and Bridge facility, or any motion or vote to purchase the real estate recorded in the commission’s record.
Missouri statutes (RMSo 51.12) reads: “Every clerk of a county commission shall keep an accurate record of the orders, rules, and proceedings of the county commission, and shall make a complete alphabetical index thereto; issue and attest all process, when required by law, and affix the seal of his office thereto; keep an accurate account of all moneys coming into his hands on account of fees, costs or otherwise, and punctually pay over the same to the persons entitled thereto; provided, that when the clerk of the circuit court of his county is a party, plaintiff or defendant, to a suit or action, the writ of summons and all other process relating thereto shall be issued by the clerk of the county commission, the reason therefor being noted on said process, and said clerk of the county commission shall, on the trial of such cause, act as temporary clerk of the circuit court and otherwise perform all the duties of the clerk of the circuit court.”
Missouri’s Sunshine Law, RSMO 610.020, Section 7 reads “A journal or minutes of open and closed meetings shall be taken and retained by the public governmental body, including, but not limited to, a record of any votes taken at such meeting. The minutes shall include the date, time, place, members present, members absent and a record of any votes taken. When a roll call vote is taken, the minutes shall attribute each "yea" and "nay" vote or abstinence if not voting to the name of the individual member of the public governmental body.”
Section 610.021, Section 2 does allow governmental bodies to close their meeting to discuss the lease, purchase or sale of real estate under certain circumstances, but no such closed meetings are recorded.
Other than the May 6 reference, there are no other recorded proceedings concerning either the decision to more the Road and Bridge Department or to purchase the four acres.
“I put in the minutes exactly what I was told to,” Hayden said.
On Thursday morning, June 3, I met with Commissioners Jerry Neyens and Roger Sedore. Presiding Commissioner Paul Allen was absent from the meeting. The following is a transcript of the questions asked and answers received at that meeting:
Q I understand we’re moving the road and bridge shed.
A. (Neyens) In time.
A (Neyens) It’s in a congested area. We don’t have enough room to park all of our machinery. We’ve got stuff stored throughout the county and we’re just going to get it out of town and get it in one location.
Q And when was that decision made?
A (Neyens) Well, it was made before we came on the council that it would be done.
Q Is that recorded in the minutes?
A (Neyens) I don’t know.
Q How did you decide on a new location?
A (Neyens) That was, again, before we got here too. That property was an ideal location. The commissioners saw it, they looked about it, they talked about it. We just kind of inherited it.
Q Are those discussions in the minutes?
A (Neyens) I don’t know.
Q When did you vote to purchase the four acres?
A (Sedore) This spring, I imagine. I don’t remember the exact day.
Q Why is that not in the minutes?
A (Neyens) Can’t answer that either.
Q Were other sites considered?
A (Neyens) Other sites? No.
Q How did you determine a $50,000 sale price?
A (Neyens) That was the asking price.
Q Did you negotiate that?
A (Neyens) That was before our time.
Q No, you said you voted this spring to purchase it.
A (Neyens) That was the price it was set at and that’s what we offered.
Q Did Trumps own the property at that time?
A (Neyens) No.
Q So how did that work?
A (Neyens) Trumps bought it. Trumps negotiated to buy the property, and we bought that portion from Trumps.
Q Did the other people know the county was going to be buying it?
A (Neyens) I have no idea.
Q Is the money from closed railroad crossings being used for this?
A (Neyens) We had set that money aside for that.
Q What are the construction cost estimates?
A (Neyens) We’re not that far along.
Q Any timeline of when you’d like to move out there?
A (Neyens) No.
I contacted Presiding Commissioner Paul Allen by telephone, and he stated that he had been working on the project for a couple years.
“I got the chance to get a hold of that ground, and we went for it. I had talked to Gary Trump about it, and he had first rights buy the ground. Gary priced it to us and we bought it,” Allen said. “I don’t know if we paid too much or not enough, but it is a prime location.”
Money for the purchase is coming from the BNSF Railroad’s payments to the county in exchange for closing road crossings.
“We’re not taking any money from Road and Bridge or General Revenue,” Allen said.
Asked why there was no record of discussion or votes in the commission’s minutes, Allen answered, “I don’t know.”
Both former Presiding Commissioner Steve Murphy and former Eastern District Commissioner C.W. Higbee agree there is a need to expand and move the facility, but deny there were any plans in place to purchase the land or relocate the Road and Bridge department while they were in office.
Murphy stated there might have been some “passing discussions” about moving the facility, but no action was ever taken.
“We talked about it (moving the Road and Bridge department) over the years, but we knew we didn’t have the money. We looked at a couple places. We looked at the old state shed when they closed that, but we couldn’t afford it,” said Higbee. “We wanted to do something, but we just didn’t have the money, and we knew it.”
Asked if the commissioners at the time had any agreement to pay $50,000 to purchase the land for a new Road and Bridge facility, Higbee responded bluntly, “Hell no. There were never any figures discussed. We never any discussions about money. Wayne Bourgeois (former Western District Commissioner) and I did not have anything to do with agreeing to purchase any land for Road and Bridge.”
I also asked Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Summers how the Commission could purchase property without a vote recorded in the minutes.
“I don’t think they can,” Summers replied.
Missouri law clearly requires that governmental bodies maintain records of the actions taken at their meetings.
In May, Missouri State Auditor Susan Montee released a Summary of State and Local Audit Finding regarding Missouri’s Sunshine Law. Clark County was among 47 governmental entities in which the audits showed concerns regarding open meeting minutes and documentation for closing meetings.
According to that report, meeting minutes did not always include sufficient detail of matters discussed and votes taken. Section 610.020, RSMo, requires minutes of meetings include the date, time, place, members present, members absent, and a record of votes taken.
Montee’s recommendation was to “Ensure meeting minutes include the information necessary to provide a complete record of all significant matters discussed and actions taken.
Montee’s report also indicates that Clark County does not have adequate formal policies and procedures regarding public access to records or the policy is not in compliance with state law. A formal policy should establish guidelines for the government to make records available to the public. The policy should identify a person to contact, provide an address to mail such requests, and establish a cost for providing copies of public records.