All commissioners were present.
There were about twenty people present other than the normal Camden County employees who usually attend. Looked like a good crowd.
Presiding Commissioner Hasty stated there was a Public Comment portion of this agenda and invited people to speak within a limit of three minutes each regarding items included in the agenda.
I usually don’t like getting up and talking during these Commission meetings. It’s pretty weird. I’ve commanded major police operations, been in high stress situations as a police officer, and instructed a bunch of classes in front of large groups of people, but when I go up there, I always feel like I’m a kid at a spelling bee.
What can I say? I prefer to write about it.
However, my own personal quirks aside, I sidled up to the Public Comment Table. I had read that the Peninsula Development Funding Agreement was on the Commission agenda for this meeting and I’ve been on a big research kick lately into TIF, TDD, and CID projects that basically give developers huge tax incentives to build projects. I suspected this might be a TIF project so I had questions. I went up to the public comment desk, signed in, and then asked the Commissioners to please describe any TIF, TDD, or CID tax incentives that were associated with this project when they brought that agenda item up. It was basically my attempt to encourage them to be open about the financing behind the project. (Spoiler alert: They didn’t talk about any of those details. &$#@%)
Another citizen went up and asked the Commission for some clarity on how the financial budgeting worked within the county. He reviewed the sales tax increase that the Sheriff had recently received in LEST2 and asked why hiring notices for deputies still stated they made $14/hour even though they were supposed to have received raises? He asked for more clarity from the county about how much money was coming in and where it was all going. Presiding Commissioner Hasty responded that the county had been audited several years back and as a result of that audit, strict accounting controls had been put in place. Concerns with how the Commission handles budget allocation and planning were also echoed by several other citizens who spoke in Public Comment.
Another attendee came up and asked for money from the Commission for the Magic Dragon Trail. This is a all-season biking trail network that if built, could bring off season tourism to the area similar to the tourism the Katy Trail draws in. Presiding Commissioner Hasty said that the Governor was in Eldon and he anticipated that there was going to be a big announcement of the approval of the Rock Island Trail.
But that all happened literally minutes after the meeting, so back to this Commission meeting.
Commissioner Gohagan made a motion to give the Magic Dragon Trail $40,000 of the $49,000 from the Passport Fund. This is money that is brought in through Passport services the Commission staff provide for Camden County citizens. It’s basically a discretionary fund for the Commission.
Commissioner Williams and Hasty seemed reluctant to give that money to the Magic Dragon Trail. Which was strange because Hasty had seemed so enthusiastic about the project a few minutes before, but now that Commissioner Gohagan was willing to put his Passport money where his mouth was, the other commissioners declined to support the funding. That motion died on the floor.
Nathan Rinne went up for public comment and had a few questions for the Commission. If you don’t know who Nathan is, click this link:
Nathan’s initial complaint was that the budget pdf file that Camden County posts on the internet isn’t in a searchable format. He followed up with a more significant complaint that the Commission has been spending money all year long on unnecessary things while the real need for Camden County is an investment in its road network.
He asked why the new 2022 budget was giving $500,000 to $600,000 more to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office next year when that money could have been used for Road and Bridge? Why was money spent surfacing the Ozark Amphitheater Occasional Overflow Parking Lot when that money could have been use for Road and Bridge? Especially when the recent “laser scanner crime scene road analysis” survey quoted a total cost of $112 million to improve the paved road network for the county?
Medical Missions for Christ also spoke during public comment asking for funding. They were seeking $30,000. They have to follow Lake Regional’s policies so they have been limited by COVID restrictions in how they can fundraise. They were not able to do their annual Trivia Night fundraising event and this has significantly impacted their income. They handle the Tri-County area and provide medical care to people who are uninsured or underinsured. They provide free medications to those who need them but need financial backing to pay for lab work for patients. Commissioner Gohagan asked if money could be earmarked for them from the incoming ARPA funds. This was briefly discussed without resolution.
An argument then broke out between Commissioners Gohagan and Williams. Commissioner Gohagan stated that Commissioner Williams had agreed to cut the Prosecuting Attorney’s budget by $217,000.
Commissioner Williams retorted that the Commission needed to increase the Prosecuting Attorney’s budget. A judge had been added to the courthouse and Williams explained the additional judge had increased the caseload for the Prosecutor’s office. There was a lot of back and forth.
I’ll be honest. I’m just one man and when things get chaotic, I can only double thumb so many notes on my poor little phone. Feel free to email the Commission and ask them to broadcast the meetings.
Once that kerfuffle had died down, Presiding Commissioner Hasty stated that he agreed with a lot of Nathan Rinne’s public comments. I did a quick check of my phone Weather App to see what the temperature currently was in Hell.
Commissioner Gohagan said Camden County needs to invest more money into its workforce. Higher wages and benefits would help retain good employees. The proposed budget for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is $1,536,000. Their budget for 2021 was $1,100,000. Commissioner Gohagan felt like the extra money sent to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office this year could have instead been used to hire more Road and Bridge employees and increase the Road and Bridge budget.
A motion was made to approve the budget. Commissioner Gohagan stated he was approving the budget under duress because he disagreed with the Prosecuting Attorney’s budget but he wanted the Camden County employees to get their pay raise. The budget was approved.
The next agenda item was the Accounting Policy. The changes suggested for the Accounting Policy were based on changes made to the Employee Handbook. This was tabled for further review.
The next item was for the Medical Examiner contract addendum. Their contract was going to be increased from $200,000 to $226,000. This was approved unanimously. I wasn’t aware organizations were able to renegotiate contracts with the county just because they underestimated how much it would cost to provide a service, but maybe it was just an amendment to the budget? The Sheriff said a few weeks ago that Camden County only had three homicides this year so I’m wondering how we exceeded our autopsy service numbers with Southwest Missouri Forensics.
This addendum was approved unanimously.
The next agenda item was for tax abatements. They were approved unanimously.
The final agenda item was for the Peninsula Development Funding Agreement. It’s a TIF (Tax Increment Funding) project with a hotel and sports entertainment complex. The intent of the Commission is to set up a TIF Board. Commissioner Hasty said the developers included a $20,000 check to cover attorney’s fees. I could see he was holding the green check. This agreement was reviewed by Gilmore Bell, counsel for Camden County.
The property for the development is by Tan-Tar-A and lakefront is involved.
Then, against my better judgement, I once again slithered up to the Public Comment table to see if they would let me talk twice. I had remembered an October 26, 2021 Commission meeting where there were a bunch of lawyers present. At the end of that meeting, the Commission kicked all of us out and had a closed session with a few people and their attorneys. It looked like they were setting up a slide show presentation for the commission. Before we left, one of the gentleman had turned to me and introduced himself. He said his name was Chris Foster.
Now I know some people prefer watching videos of the Commission meetings but it’s moments like this where it is beneficial to have a retired cop sitting in a meeting taking notes.
I asked Presiding Commissioner Hasty if that closed October 26, 2021 meeting was with a Foster development project. He admitted that the Fosters presented this development project to the Commission during that closed meeting. Hasty claimed that the meeting was closed because attorneys were involved.
Yup. Commissioner Hasty thinks that when a real estate developer wants to have a private meeting with the Commission to pitch a project to them without the public present, it qualifies as a closed meeting exception because the developer brought some attorneys to the meeting.
Here is the statute definition for the subsection (1) legal matter exception that allows closed meetings for legal actions:
RSMO 610.021 (1) Legal actions, causes of action or litigation involving a public governmental body and any confidential or privileged communications between a public governmental body or its representatives and its attorneys.
This intent of this subsection is to allow the governmental body (the Commission) to meet with its attorneys to discuss legal actions and litigation. For example, the Commission might meet with their attorneys to discuss a civil lawsuit wherein Camden County is being sued because they banned a private citizen from all county property and then convinced the prosecuting attorney to have one of his investigators swear out a search warrant for that citizen’s Facebook messages. That would be an appropriate use of this subsection.
The intent of this exception is NOT to allow the Commission to meet with a real estate developer to secretly hear about a big real estate project. There is no privileged communication there. The Commissioners are not the clients of the real estate developer’s attorneys.
This is a big problem, readers. It’s not fair for the other hotels and resorts that are near this proposed development that they had to build their properties up without any tax breaks and now Greg Hasty thinks we should subsidize the development of a new hotel that will compete with them for business.
And the unfair tilt of the playing field is further compounded by the fact that the Commission granted the developer a private meeting with them to hear their proposal, far away from prying eyes. It is very likely that this project is going be tied up with some kind of lawsuit and a major flaw in the Commission’s legal position is going to be the fact that this whole thing smells like some kind of backroom deal.
At this point, Commissioner Gohagan had heard enough and moved to reject the Peninsula Development Funding Agreement. He said there was so much recent economic upturn in Camden County that developers should want to build projects here without any type of special tax considerations. There was a short delay and then Commissioner Williams made a motion to accept the agreement even though it’s not in his district. Commissioner Gohagan refused to second the motion. Presiding Commissioner Hasty then voted to beak the impasse and accept the development funding agreement.
The final agenda item was the Employee Handbook. At this point, I think everyone was exhausted so that passed unanimously without anyone looking at it.
And that was that.
Normally, I save my opinions for the end of the meeting summary. This was just such a disappointing meeting for those of us who hold out hope that eventually some of the commissioners will begin to understand that county business works best when it is exposed to public view. It’s just one more example of another backdoor deal that I suspected back in that October meeting when I first got a whiff of it and now my instincts have been proven right.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office provided training a month or so ago here in Camden County about the Sunshine Law and how it applies to Commission meetings. A lot of the County employees who attended the training began to realize at the training that the way the Commission conducts business violates these Sunshine rules. Can you guess which two Camden County employees did not attend the training?
Commissioner Greg Hasty and Commissioner Don Williams.
Are you surprised?
One last thing. I am a regular guest on the Daily Show with KB and Bill on Key Radio 89.3 FM. I’m sure we will be discussing this meeting when I’m on the radio on this Monday, December 20 at 9:00 a.m. If you listen to the live show, you can call in to (573) 633-5395 and ask us questions. You can also listen online at: