Commissioners Gohagan, Hasty and Williams were present.
The Sheriff’s sales tax increase vote took place two days before and it passed with a 62% approval rate. During the week before the vote, there were hardly any deputies at the meeting. Even the deputies who were normally there to keep an eye on things hadn’t been around for the meetings. This all changed at this meeting.
There were at least a dozen uniformed deputies who came into the meeting and took seats around the room. One guy who I assume was an off duty deputy even came in with his family and sat down. It was definitely looking like something was up! I looked through the agenda and saw that it was basically just budget amendments, Sheriff contracts, and tax abatements. Could these deputies all be there to talk about the Sheriff contracts?
Commissioner Hasty came in wearing a coat and tie.
Other than all of the deputies and Camden County employees, there were only two of us present at the meeting besides Camden County employees. Per our normal standard operating procedures, Camden County Guerrilla media re-arranged the chairs, checked the Nathan Hotline for a dial tone, took video of the meeting and provided free coffee and pastries. Nobody ever eats the doughnuts and pastries, so we made an executive decision and we’re going to just stick to the coffee from now on.
This is a summary of the meeting.
The commission secretary now sits on the opposite side of the commission dais ever since the meeting when she refused to press the “Speaker” button on the Nathan hotline. Her new spot was where Charles McElyea (“Charlie”), the Legal Advisor to the Commission, used to sit so he had to move over by Commissioner Gohagan, closest to the Nathan hotline. The way people look at that phone, you’d think Nathan Rinne himself was sitting up there with them.
(As an aside, for people who don’t know, Commissioners Hasty and Williams banned Nathan Rinne from all Camden County property. After receiving the ban letter (not a trespass letter), Nathan went to the courthouse to vote and posted a public video to Facebook of himself walking out of the building after voting. Michael Hutzler, a detective for the Camden County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, then wrote a search warrant for all of the contents of Nathan’s Facebook account including his private messages. The justification for the search warrant was that it would prove that Nathan had trespassed on county property. The search warrant instructed Facebook not to notify Nathan about the search warrant. No Camden County judge would sign the search warrant so the detective took it to a Laclede County judge who signed it. Meanwhile, Nathan filed a federal lawsuit against the county for a violation of his civil rights. As part of the pre-trial negotiations, it was agreed that Nathan can call in to the Commission meetings on the Nathan hotline.)
The Commission asked the Treasurer if the federal aid ARPA money was ready to go. She said it was. This ARPA funding is several million dollars that is currently restricted for use on water, sewer, broadband development, and COVID-related expenses and projects.
Commissioner Hasty then walked over to make sure there was a dial tone on the Nathan hotline because it had been unplugged at a prior meeting. Scandalous. 🙂 We assured him that we had already checked the phone.
The first agenda item was for Budget Amendments. The Auditor, Jimmy Laughlin, walked up to the dais and presented three budget amendments to the commissioners.
The first one was moving money for impact fees involving asphalt? No idea what that was about.
While they were reviewing the first amendment, the Nathan hotline rang. Commissioner Gohagan asked the commission secretary to answer the phone. She smirked and said, “No, sir.” Charlie managed to figure out how to put it on speaker without any specialized training. Virtual Nathan was activated.
The second amendment was for the Camden County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) moving money from their building and electricity line to equipment so they can buy a new computer.
The third amendment was to move money from General County Unbudgeted and Unallocated revenue to the Medical Examiner. I believe this was to pay for the Medical Examiner contract with Southwest Missouri Forensics. If I understand correctly, this money is coming from the $1,000,000 Miscellaneous line item in the 2021 Budget that is intended for unexpected expenses. This was previously approved by the Commissioners.
These amendments passed unanimously.
At this point, Commissioner Hasty stated, “I have one other budget amendment I would like to discuss this morning.” And then he proposed that the Commission should allocate $250,000 to the Camden County Sheriff’s Office so the deputies’ salaries could be raised before the approved sales tax increase kicks in. This would make the minimum deputy annual salary $42,042 and approximately $20/hour starting September 1, 2021. His logic was that by raising the wages now with county money, the deputies wouldn’t have to wait until January to get their raises.
Commissioner Williams immediately stated, “I agree. We’ve got the money. Let’s start now so they don’t have to wait until the first of the year. The people have spoken. This is what they want. I agree. We should do it.”
Virtual Nathan wanted to know how that would work out. Would the Sheriff repay the Commission after the start of the year? Hasty responded that his inclination was to not have the Sheriff pay back the funds to the Commission. Hasty felt revenues were up and Camden County could afford it. Hasty felt this upswing in revenue will continue for the next 3-4 years. Hasty stated there was no question in his mind that this raise for the deputies has been long deserved.
Commissioner Gohagan stated this was the first he had heard about this proposal. You could tell that Gohagan was irritated. He wanted to know specifics about the money. The Sheriff didn’t seem to know for sure and Jimmy Brashear, the Chief Deputy Sheriff, said they’re “still working on it” (the numbers). Gohagan objected to that and wanted more certainty about the numbers.
Commissioner Hasty stated he had “crunched some numbers” on this and thought that $250,000 should be sufficient.
I then asked the Sheriff about the fact that he had said at the CCRC Meeting that the sales tax increase would take effect on September 1, 2021. There was then a response from various parties that said the sales tax would take effect September 1, but then they agreed it would take effect October 1. Sheriff Helms said he may be wrong. Charlie said he believes the tax would be collected on October 1. Commissioner Hasty affirmed that he thought the tax started on October 1.
Commissioner Hasty thought the job of a deputy was very dangerous and now that the Camden County economy was doing so well, they should get the raise.
Virtual Nathan said it was a good idea but complained that Commissioner Williams was recently on the radio talking about a budgetary crisis so how could he vote for spending this money? Nathan thought the money would be better spent on road repairs. Commissioner Williams responded that it wasn’t just about putting money in reserves, draining reserves, or just giving raises to the deputies. Commissioners Hasty and Williams retorted that there was approximately $500,000 in extra revenue and the sales tax increase alone wouldn’t have been enough to pay for the raises, but it was enough to give them the raises until the sales tax increase started.
Nathan responded that there have been various numbers quoted by the Commission about what is in the reserves.
Commissioner Hasty then pressured Commissioner Gohagan about what he thought of the proposal. Nathan kept talking and Commissioner Hasty told Nathan that this was a discussion between the three commissioners. Nathan apologized and said he thought it was a general discussion.
Hasty said he was going to make a motion for this proposal. Commissioner Gohagan said that he should make a motion for all Camden County employees to get a raise. Hasty said the deputy raise issue was a “crisis situation.” Commissioner Hasty stated he thought they should raise salaries for all employees in the 2022 Budget.
Now this was pretty interesting because at the July 6, 2021 Commission meeting, the Commission had really thought long and hard about giving just $4,500 to the Emergency Management Agency for salaries and benefits. Now, less than a month later, Commissioner Hasty was saying Camden County had $250,000 to spend for the Sheriff’s Office. I’ve listed the links to articles about that meeting below:
Commissioner Hasty stated he was going to bring up something that “he had been keeping under his hat.” According to Hasty, the gas tax Missouri passed recently that Hasty said we all “moaned about” would mean that CART (County Aid Road Trust. Road money from Missouri) funds are going to increase . This would mean a substantial increase in road money and more money for Road and Bridge. This extra road money would mean that Camden County could raise salaries for all county employees in 2022.
The County Auditor, who up until this moment might have been having a good day, usually has a pretty good poker face. He looked stunned. It was pretty obvious that nobody had mentioned this $250,000 proposal to him before this meeting. He asked if he could speak before the Commission made their motion. He reminded the Commission that there had been $1,000,000 allocated for 2021 for unforeseen budget expenditures (I call this the “Magic Dragon Fund”) and over 80% of that money had already been spent. According to the Auditor, this was the one line item they could use for these raises. In order for the county to reallocate the money, Camden County would have to redo its entire 2021 Budget process.
(From previous articles, you may recall that some of that remaining 20% had already been earmarked by the Auditor to cover Sheriff overtime for the upcoming holiday weekends when it would be all hands on deck for the CCSO. It’s also important to realize that the Auditor’s Office is gearing up to prepare the 2022 Budget and there are statutory calendar checkpoints that a First Class County like Camden County has to meet for budget preparation.)
Commissioner Hasty said they have the authority do it.
Commissioner Gohagan wanted to know why the raises for the deputies hadn’t been proposed a long time ago. Commissioner Williams said the money wasn’t there. Commissioner Hasty said the county is $525,000 ahead in sales tax from last year (a record year). Commissioner Hasty: “This is only a short thing. Obviously, at the beginning of the year, when Tony’s money is rolling in, it will be allocated permanently for those raises.”
Commissioner Hasty asked Sheriff Helms what the plan would be to process the raises by September 1 and he pointed to Jimmy Brashear.
Commissioner Gohagan asked Sheriff Helms when Helms and Commissioner Hasty discussed this raise. Hasty said he called Helms the day after the vote (the day before this meeting) and asked how much it would cost to give the deputies raises until 2022.
Nathan asked Sheriff Helms if he could afford the raises from his own CCSO budget. Helms said he was already $40,000 over his budget because of retirement payouts (Retirement payouts are normally paid from the $1,000,000 Magic Dragon Fund).
Commissioner Hasty said he is “familiar with the statutes” and really put his reputation on the line that this proposal was appropriate. Hasty stated to the Auditor that he wanted to move $250,000 from the general fund “or something related to it” to the Sheriff for payroll. I just kept staring over and watching Jimmy’s face. He was inscrutable. I was impressed.
The Auditor responded that he didn’t know if they could have the raise done by September 1st. If they want to do it, they have to close the budget for 2021, go through a whole new budget for 2021 and open it up for all departments. Jimmy said he understood why they wanted to do this, but they should probably table it until they could figure out what the ramifications would be.
Commissioner Hasty said he didn’t think that was correct. Commissioner Williams said he will take a look at the budget and see where the $250,000 can come from.
Commissioner Hasty then wanted to amend the proposal. It went back and forth between the Commissioners about how the proposal would be worded. The Auditor said he didn’t know if they could do it.
Charlie (Legal Advisor) then brought up Mo Rev. 50.622 which he looked up on his phone (I’m not joking) and basically said that counties can amend budgets when counties receive additional funds pursuant to a whole section of statutes about budgets. He ignored all of the other statutes that dictate how First Class Counties handle their budgets.
Commissioner Hasty then apologized for not having that statute ready for the meeting (it’s approx 50 words), and then said they can do it.
Commissioner Gohagan stated that they should give the CCSO money to make the salaries $20/hour instead of giving the CCSO $250,000 as a flat amount of money. Commissioner Hasty said the Commission can’t dictate to the Sheriff what he will pay his deputies by statute (Statute? Dear Reader, I think we’ve learned by this point to always check the statute whenever they tell us something is dictated by statute).
Commissioner Williams explained to Commissioner Gohagan that the reason this could happen now is that the sales tax increase will support the raises. Prior to the increase, Camden County wouldn’t have had enough money to sustain the raises. According to Williams, the increased margin of annual sales tax revenue ($1,000,000 per year by his estimate) isn’t going to be enough to sustain the CCSO deputy raises ($763,000 per year according to Sheriff Helms).
Virtual Nathan said he just had one more point. According to Nathan, the CCSO has already received $180,000 above their budgeted appropriations. Nathan felt that the apparently available $250,000 would be better spent on roads since the deputies would still get their sales tax raise in January of 2022.
Commissioner Hasty expressed that the gas tax was starting soon with some significant increases in revenue, but in five years, Camden County should be receiving a ballpark number of $4,000,000 in additional CART funding per year for roads.
Commissioner Hasty stated the money will give the CCSO deputies raises instead of making them wait until the end of the year. He again said he called the Sheriff the day after the election to see if they could make this work.
Commissioner Gohagan asked Sheriff Helms how much he would make the starting salary of a CCSO deputy. Sheriff Helms responded, “I’ve never changed that. From $19.25 and we were considering $20. It seems Lake of the Ozarks is moving to $20.” He ultimately said it would be $20/hour.
Nathan then cautioned that the Missouri gas tax is facing legal challenges and that revenue is not guaranteed.
Seeing that Commissioner Gohagan and the Auditor were caught off guard by Hasty’s proposal, I asked Commissioner Williams when he had learned about the proposal. Commissioner Williams said Commissioner Hasty had mentioned it to him the afternoon before and then they had spoken about it for five minutes before the meeting.
Commissioner Hasty stated he spoke to Sheriff Tony Helms first. Then he talked to Charlie (Legal Advisor). He talked to Commissioner Williams that morning. He said it was totally transparent.
Commissioner Gohagan confirmed with the Sheriff that the pay raise would would apply to HH (Horseshoe Bend) deputies as well.
Commissioner Hasty again made a proposal to move $250,000 into the Sheriff’s payroll line from available funds that are available from the 2021 Budget so the raises could take affect at or around September 1, 2021. The other commissioners wanted it to say from whatever funds were available. It was amended to say $250,000 from available funds under the 2021 Budget wherever they are available transferred to the Sheriff. Only the Lord knows what it ultimately said because it went back and forth so many times.
Stephanie asked the Commission if there were minutes taken from the quorum when Commissioners Hasty and Williams talked about the proposal before the meeting. Commissioner Williams said it was not an official meeting. Commissioner Hasty said the commissioners receive a lot of training year after year about these issues and Commissioner Williams said they can’t be followed around by someone at all times to take minutes of their conversations. He described the meeting as ministerial or administrative. She asked if Hasty had an opportunity to discuss this proposal with Commissioner Gohagan. Hasty said he did not get an opportunity to discuss it with him. Hasty said that when he had mentioned it to Williams, Williams just nodded his head.
Commissioner Gohagan said he might not have been available to talk to Hasty because he was going to retirement events that day.
Commissioner Williams said they are receptive to input from the public and they like getting public input. He stated the Commission meetings aren’t really public meetings so much as they are the Commission “conducting business in public”. He also noted that some other County Commissions don’t allow public comments.
Commissioner Hasty stated he was disappointed that the voter turnout for the sales tax vote was so low but the voters appear to want the deputy salaries to increase.
Commissioner Williams said there are big improvements planned for Road and Bridge. Since he was elected, the Commission has given raises to Camden County employees every other year.
Commissioner Hasty restated that there was a motion to vote for his proposal. Williams seconded the motion. The commissioners approved this budget amendment unanimously. There was then applause. After that, most of the deputies left the meeting.
The second agenda item was Sheriff Contracts. These were both LANEG contracts (Lake Area Narcotics Enforcement Group). These were approved unanimously. (LANEG has a budget of approximately $800,000 that is pass-through money that comes through the Sheriff’s Office)
The third agenda item was for surplus tax funds. A claim of surplus tax funds was approved unanimously.
And finally, the July tax abatements were approved. At this point, I don’t think anybody cared about these items after Commissioner Hasty dropped his budget bomb on the Commission meeting. It was approved unanimously.
And that was that.
Regardless of what spontaneous legal advice was provided at the meeting, there is almost no way that the Commission is going to be able to make this happen. First Class Counties like Camden County are under rigorous statutory budget controls that are intended to prevent large budget counties like ours from making major changes to their statutorily approved budgets in the middle of a fiscal year. We are fortunate to have a very talented County Auditor like Jimmy Laughlin and the concerns he expressed at the meeting should be considered. I’d say there is a 95% chance that this 2021 raise proposal will be amended or rescinded since most of the methods available to fund it are either illegal or impossible to implement. That’s not fair to the deputies who walked away from that meeting thinking they just got a pay raise.
The Missouri statutes are specifically designed to prevent things like this from happening. Presiding Commissioner Hasty cannot just wake up from a fever dream and then bring in a budget amendment from the desert like Moses with the Ten Commandments without checking first with the Camden County budget officer. A more rational approach would have been to propose the salary increase at the meeting, discuss it, and then table it so everyone can come up with a plan on how to implement it. Then the Commissioners could review the Auditor’s assessment and return at a later meeting to vote on it. By Hasty’s own admission, this was planned in less than two days by the Sheriff and Commissioner Hasty. It was briefly mentioned to Commissioner Williams beforehand. Gohagan knew nothing about it. Camden County’s Budget Officer knew nothing about it.
It’s just hard to understand why there was such a rush to vote on it. My suggestion would be that the Commission should adopt a policy that budget amendment proposals over $10,000 should be introduced only for discussion at the first Commission meeting when they are proposed. The proposal should then be tabled for at least a week to allow the Commissioners to gather information and review it to decide how they would vote. Ramming proposals like this through the Commission with little or no notice is just reckless.