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Commission meeting gets heated

A recent St. Francois County Commission meeting became heated when the topic of developing a policy for Sunshine Law requests was discussed.

Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson said the commission recognizes the need to have a policy that outlines a request for public records through the Sunshine Law.

“We have a resolution that is statutorily required and we hope to take that on June 29,” Wilkinson said. “We are going to craft a policy that we hope will mix with our other policies … hopefully with the interest of departments, elected officials, to that effect.”

St. Francois County Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson explains the need for a policy on Sunshine Law requests during a recent meeting.

St. Francois County Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson explains the need for a policy on Sunshine Law requests during a recent meeting.

Wilkinson said just so there is no confusion, the commission hopes to have a form to request the information. He added it would explain the fees and all needed information.

“We are going to develop a policy that addresses that hopefully, and it should be relatively easy,” Wilkinson said. “That’s the goal and I encourage anybody to attend and give their input or comments.”

Vonne Karraker, an attorney with Manley, Karraker & Karraker located in Farmington, told the commission that she had been struggling to get records from the county files for several weeks.

“I am a little confused. The Sunshine Law has been in place since I was a toddler and the instructions for following it has been on the state’s website for 20 years now,” said Karraker. “I’m wondering why it is so difficult to determine who’s the custodian of the actual records and how are you going to deal with the process for getting these records.”

A recent county commission meeting gets heated when county officials and Vonne L. Karraker, an attorney with Manley, Karraker &amp; Karraker in Farmington, (seated at center) discuss Sunshine Law requests. </p><p class=

View a portion of the meeting online at dailyjournalonline.com” width=”800″ /> A recent county commission meeting gets heated when county officials and Vonne L. Karraker, an attorney with Manley, Karraker &amp; Karraker in Farmington, (seated at center) discuss Sunshine Law requests. 

View a portion of the meeting online at dailyjournalonline.com

Karraker said Treasurer Kerry Glore knows that when she asks for compensation records she doesn’t want to get requisitions for desk fans, office furniture or veggie trays.

“How is it that we have gotten to this point where it’s so difficult to do this?” asked Karraker.

Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher said he feels the policy meeting will establish a form where the party making a records request will specifically state what they want. He said he believed somebody may have gotten confused on the previous requests.

Karraker said she didn’t think so, and that it has always been the law of the state since 1973 that such record requests be made in writing. She said that she had made requests for documents in writing and it had been “like pulling teeth” to get the records regarding the prosecutor’s office.

Gallaher asked if she had received the information yet, and Karraker said she had not at that time. 

“If I want records of income and earnings, I don’t need 800 pages of records about furniture requisitions, unless the county starts paying their employees with office furniture,” Karraker stressed. “I find it appalling that a public official would try to include those and try to force me to pay for those under the Sunshine Law when we both know that’s not an income record.”

Karraker said she really wants the commission to think carefully and address this for the future because the commission is skirting very dangerously on the edge of getting a Sunshine Law violation lawsuit when officeholders play such games.

Associate Commissioner Patrick Mullins asked Karraker what she meant by a “data dump.” She explained that in litigation it is called a data dump when someone tries to get information and someone gives them some of the information they are seeking but also provides a lot of unrelated or unneeded documents to muddy the waters when trying to find the requested information.

“It’s a common tactic in litigation,” Karraker said.

Mullins said he didn’t think that was the intention of anyone in the county offices. 

“Are you telling me that our county treasurer doesn’t know the difference between the word ‘compensation’ and ‘office furniture requisition,’” Karraker asked.

“I’m sure she does,” Mullins said.

“So if the county treasurer includes requisitions for office furniture as part of the response to a request for information about wages and earnings, would you say that would be incorrect?” Karraker asked.

Mullins said he could see her twist. Karraker said she was not twisting anything. As they talked over each other, Mullins said he believed she was twisting the facts and Karraker said she was telling the commission that there were 888 pages of records when she requested earnings information and she had to go back over and over again to make it clear that she did not want furniture acquisition records.

“I have no need for information about desk fans. Those 888 pages of records that I was being told I had to pay for went down to 59 pages,” Karraker said. “So if you want to tell me, even though you weren’t there, if you want to tell me that I misunderstood the situation … I think it’s important to understand that I do this for a living and every attorney knows what a data dump is.”

Glore said whenever she received the first request in May it asked for all reimbursements.

“No ma’am, you and I went through it,” Karraker said. “It said earnings information, earnings and wages including but not limited to reimbursements. The topic was earnings, it wasn’t furniture.”

St. Francois County Treasurer Kerry Glore explains the information she provided for the Sunshine request.

St. Francois County Treasurer Kerry Glore explains the information she provided for the Sunshine request.

Glore asked if Auditor Louie Seiberlich had a copy of the request. He said it read all compensation including, but not limited to, salaries, stipends, allotments and all other income or incoming payments made to or on behalf of each said named employee.

“It also says copies of records of all reimbursements made to each employee of the St. Francois County Prosecutor’s Office,” Seiberlich said.

“So if an employee paid for something for the office out of their own pocket then the county would have reimbursed them,” Glore said. “So in covering the request and making sure we didn’t leave anything out, we looked at that to be reimbursements.”

“So when we met and went over that, when you tried to give me those 888 pages, and you and I spent a good 30 minutes going over exactly what income meant, you and I agreed that I didn’t need office furniture,” Karraker said. “You then responded and told me ‘your 888 pages of records are still here and waiting for you.’”

Glore said she responded, but she wanted to talk to the county clerk and said Karraker didn’t have time to go talk with him because she had a meeting, which was fine. Glore added that ultimately 59 pages were given to Karraker.

Karraker said those pages still don’t answer questions. Glore said her office received a second Sunshine Law request, which she reportedly worked with the county clerk and auditor to fulfill.

“This has been done according to the Sunshine Law and legal counsel guiding us through this process,” Glore said. “So I think we have done our best to meet the requirement of the law and records are available. I understand you picked up some of them from the auditor’s office and Mark (Hedrick) has informed you that his payroll portion is prepared and ready for pickup.”

“I just want to be clear on this, I know you need to defend yourself, but we spent a good 30 minutes going through each and every word of that May 11 request,” Karraker said. “Do you remember that?”

“I remember talking with you,” Glore said.

“Shall I play you back the recording?” Karraker asked.

“We wanted to make sure we fulfilled your request as best we could,” Glore replied.

“That is correct and we responded after that,” Karraker said.

“Yes we did,” Glore said.

“I don’t recall following up with the same 888 pages, other than that was what was available,” Glore responded.

“I want you to know for the record that the part I picked up still did not comply with my request,” Karraker said. “And I don’t know how we get from A to B, where we can clarify these things and get to where it doesn’t take six weeks to do it in two requests.”

Gallaher asked if what Karraker wanted was payroll records for certain people during a certain time frame.

“I think I was pretty clear in my second request,” Karraker said.

Seiberlich interrupted and read the request from May 11 that was submitted by Karraker.

“Miss Vonne Karraker says, ‘I request that all fees for locating and copying the records be waived, the information I obtained through this request will be used to verify the exact nature, amount and source of funds dispersed or reimbursed to the employees of the St. Francois County Prosecutor’s Office,’” Seiberlich read. “On June 8 a second Sunshine request asked for Internal Revenue Service W-2 forms, 1099 forms, other compensation, copies of expense reports, supporting documentation for meals, mileage, entertainment, travel, lodging, paid or reimbursed by St. Francois County.”

St. Francois County Auditor Louie Seiberlich reads a Sunshine Law request submitted to the county.

St. Francois County Auditor Louie Seiberlich reads a Sunshine Law request submitted to the county.

He added the request also asked for copies of billing statements for credit cards issued to several named employees showing itemized purchases and charges made or incurred in the nature of or on behalf of the employees that were paid by St. Francois County.

“Copies of checks and other original records showing payments made from the so-called bad check and tax fund to the above named employees,” Seiberlich read. “Copies of the original source, documentation for the salary, vacation pay, comp time, overtime and bonuses paid to the above named employees. Copies of the original source documentation itemizing the distribution of payments from the Mental Health Fund by named employee and year.”

“Now, gentlemen, I had four ladies on the May request work three days with no other work done, to take care of the first Sunshine request,” Seiberlich said. “The second request took two ladies two days with no other work done. None of the taxpayers’ work was done, except for this one taxpayer.”

Seiberlich stressed that for Karraker to say he had not given her the appropriate information, in excess of 1,200 pages of copies, was beyond his understanding of reasonable expectations.

“I don’t think we have a problem at all. We have been in contact with the state attorney on this numerous times and we have satisfied your needs according to him,” Seiberlich said.

“Well, I would like to say that I agree, but lawyers do disagree,” Karraker said. “In the meantime, I don’t think it is fair to characterize my request as one taxpayer, because when I do make these requests it’s not for grits and shins, I make them on behalf of the public.”

“But it comes from you, it doesn’t come from anyone else,” Seiberlich said.

“Yes, and I would understand why you are so offended that a taxpayer would want to know what is being done with the tax money,” Karraker said.

“I am only offended that you question our ability to deliver what you requested,” Seiberlich said.

“When it takes six weeks for this (county offices) to respond I do feel it’s OK and appropriate to question it,” Karraker said. “And I don’t apologize for that.”

“I don’t apologize for what we have given you either,” said Seiberlich.

To view a video of a portion of the exchange visit www.dailyjournalonline.com or follow this link, https://youtu.be/_Z9S0bEu-CM

A meeting to discuss developing a policy for a Sunshine Law request will be held on Friday at 9 a.m. in the St. Francois County Commission chambers. The meeting is open to the public.

Vonne Karraker, an attorney with Manley, Karraker &amp; Karraker in Farmington, addresses the commission about a Sunshine Law request she had made in May and again in June.

Vonne Karraker, an attorney with Manley, Karraker &amp; Karraker in Farmington, addresses the commission about a Sunshine Law request she had made in May and again in June.

Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or rbronaugh@dailyjournalonline.com

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