SPRINGFIELD, Mo.–The Greene County Commissioner at the center of an email controversy is breaking his silence about his intent when he wrote the emails to county employees..
Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin reveals what he really meant in an email that seemed to suggest public funds be used to advocate for a 1/2 cent sales tax along with urging county employees to campaign for the ballot measure on company time.
He says that the emails shouldn’t be taken at face value.
While he acknowledges the wording of them is controversial, he stands by their content.
“The reason I sent the email was one of our commissioners, Harold Bengsch, sent several people an email including me, basically ‘hey this vote is coming up in November and we’re not really doing much right now and just we need to start having meetings and campaign meetings things like that’,” says Cirtin.
And thus begins the journey of Cirtin’s infamous email outlining strategies on how to get the 1/2 cent sales tax in November to pass.
“When you’re having a campaign like this, there’s two different things. There’s education and then there’s advocacy. Education is where we educate the public just basically providing information that we’re going to put this tax on the ballot, here’s what it’s going to do etc. Advocacy is then asking people to support the tax,” says Cirtin.
It’s something that, contrary to what’s been alleged Cirtin says wasn’t mandatory for county employees to do nor were they being paid to do it.
“Totally volunteer basis and I made it clear on one of my emails that this has nothing to do with their position in the county. I made that very clear, but not very many people saw those emails,” says Cirtin.
Neither do people, according to Cirtin, seem to believe that public money wasn’t being misused to promote the tax.
“There was never any county tax payer money spent on advocacy, it was all spent on education,” says Cirtin.
Which according to Attorney Eddie Greim, privately hired investigator in this case, is legal.
“Under Missouri law, the county is able to spend money to educate about the ballot measure. County officials are able to issue press releases and they are actually able to advocate for this,” Greim says.
As for the part in Cirtin’s email where he writes, “If we have a meeting with two or more commissioners present we would have to post it as an open meeting. This would not be a good idea because we cannot run the risk of media attending. We can’t have our sausage making appear in the News Leader,” Cirtin says all he was trying to do was be in compliance with the Sunshine Law.
“Anytime we have two or more commissioners at an event, we need to post it. The main reason you have campaign meetings and they are private campaign meetings is because if you have opposition, you don’t want the opposition to know what your strategy is and if you have media or outsiders at that meeting, the opposition will know your strategy,” says Cirtin.
In hindsight, he says how he conveyed his message was a mistake, but sticks by its content.
“I think I would have been more careful in how I wrote it. The part about the news media, I regret putting that in there,” says Cirtin.
The county is being investigated by a private law firm that it hired.
Cirtin says they chose a private law firm instead of a public audit because the county’s attorney recommended it , saying partially because it’s cheaper, but they aren’t ruling out using the state auditor.