A private law firm is charging Greene County more than $151,000 for two months of work.
The News-Leader recently obtained a copy of an invoice sent to the Greene County budget office by Kansas City-based firm Graves Garrett on March 9. The county expects to receive additional invoices, according to Budget Officer Jeff Scott.
In early December, Greene County Commissioners voted 2-1 to hire Graves Garrett. The move came one day after Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway asked to investigate whistleblower allegations that the county misused public resources to advocate for a 1/2-cent sales tax leading up to the November election.
The invoice shows that six different Graves Garrett attorneys logged 153 hours of work for Greene County between Dec. 6 and Jan. 31.
Dec. 6 is the same day the auditor publicized allegations that county resources, funds and equipment might have been used as part of a strategy to promote the sales tax ballot measure.
So far the county owes $151,460.11 to the law firm, the invoice says. Taxpayers will be footing the bill.
On multiple occasions, Greene County Commissioners have directed media requests for comment to attorney Eddie Greim, whose hourly rate is $445, according to the invoice.
The hourly rates of the other five attorneys range between $170 and $285, the invoice shows.
Beyond fielding questions from the media, Graves Garrett attorneys have conducted research and provided legal opinions, among other things.
Minutes from a closed-door meeting held on Dec. 7 indicate Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin and Commissioner Harold Bengsch voted in favor of a motion: "To engage Graves Garrett Law Firm to begin a review and investigation of complaints Greene County has received from the Missouri Ethics Commission and the Missouri State Auditor."
The dissenting vote came from Commissioner Lincoln Hough, who said he did not support using taxpayer dollars to hire a private law firm. He has been - and continues to be - a vocal supporter of allowing Galloway to investigate the county.
On Dec. 29, Graves Garrett sent to County Commissioners a 17-page document which outlined a preliminary review of the allegations and raised questions about the auditor's qualifications in handling an investigation into whether public funds were misused for the sales tax measure.
The document also contested whether Galloway's office would be allowed to conduct an audit at no cost to the county government, as she has offered to do.
So far, the county has rebuffed Galloway's repeated requests to audit. County Commissioners announced in January they would wait to learn the outcome of an investigation conducted by the Missouri Ethics Commission on similar concerns.
Graves Garrett attorneys have also been working with the county in cooperating with the ethics commission investigation.
Greim told the News-Leader Wednesday the county is "very confident" the ethics commission will issue a decision "in the near future."
Scott, the county budget officer, said Graves Garrett's legal fees will come out of a county general revenue fund, which does not include new sales tax money. No money has been paid to the law firm yet, he said.
(story shared by the Springfield News-Leader. Read the original article here)
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