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Auditor demands return of raises

She says Short, Eskridge should return over $18,000

by Kim Fickett and Ivan Foley
Landmark staff

Platte County Auditor Sandra Thomas issued a public demand at last Thursday’s county commission meeting seeking repayment of the “unconstitutional pay increase” taken by current first district commissioner Michael Short and former second district commissioner Diza Eskridge in 1999 and 2000.

In 1997, Short, as well as a majority of the other members of the Salary Commission voted to give pay raises to Short and Eskridge. Thomas, who voted against the raises, is now asking that those raises which were deemed unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court in Laclede County v. Douglass on May 15, 2001 be paid back to the county.

“Think of it this way,” Thomas explained. “If any other county employee received a pay raise of $19,753.50 (roughly $18,000 plus interest) in error would the commission demand it be repaid? Of course. Why is this situation any different?”

In closing comments at Thursday’s commission meeting, Short said:

“About four years later, the Supreme Court in a case coming out of Laclede County issued an opinion that told the legislature what it done was wrong. That the statute if passed was unconstitutional, for various reasons. The court specifically did not address the issue of the county’s reliance upon the legislature and that’s because in Missouri it is well established in the law that actions taken in reliance upon legislative action are deemed to be unconstitutional.”

“You have to be able to rely on your legislature and the laws that they pass as being constitutional laws. It is very well established in the state. So the court did not address that issue. There has never been a court decision in this state that has said that what the Platte County Salary Commission did in 1997 or what any salary commission did was unconstitutional.”

Thomas responded to Short’s closing comments by stating, “Short is a lawyer. He should know that his excuse will not stand up in court. After the Supreme Court decision in Laclede County v. Douglass, the commissioners in Laclede County immediately repaid the money.”

“I guess Short hasn’t bothered reading the case,” said Thomas. “ I hope he doesn’t make that mistake when providing legal advice as part of his other job.”

Short said Laclede County is a third class county; he said no first class county has had its affected officeholders pay back the questionable pay raises. He said he has no intention of paying back his raise "unless a court should take it up and decide that here in Platte County we need to do that.”

Short told The Landmark that he disputes Thomas’ stance that she had made private demands for return of the money.

“She sent one e-mail suggesting that we obtain counsel on the issue, which we did,” said Short. “She had never made any demand.”

Short continued: “In our discussions with the Missouri Association of Counties legal counsel, he was clear in his advice to us that that decision did not require repayment and that we didn’t need to do that.”

According to Thomas, there were numerous attempts made on her part to clear this matter up with the commissioners.

“Commissioner Steve Wegner recently questioned (in last week's issue of The Landmark) why I had not demanded repayment of these raises. Well, as usual, Wegner does not have his facts straight. I have made several private requests of the commissioners to address the unconstitutional pay raises received by Short and Eskridge,” said Thomas. “Since the commissioners have ignored these private requests I wanted to make a clear public demand that the commissioners cannot ignore.”

Also in the session, Thomas presented required disclosures to the county commission that the state auditor’s office has used in its audits of counties with outstanding amounts due from these unconstitutional pay raises and which she plans to include with the 2003 financial statements.

“When Short and I took our oaths of office, we swore to uphold the Constitution of the State of Missouri. Trying to uphold the constitution is not “political,” it is my sworn duty,” said Thomas. “Short apparently has forgotten his oath to not violate the constitution.”



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