LIBERTY, Mo. — A proposal requiring Clay County commissioners to vote on all county-owned or administered properties was blocked from the commission’s agenda Monday.
Commissioner Jerry Nolte tried to get the proposal on the agenda last week for Monday’s meeting after he found leases showing two top county administrators, each making well over $100,000 a year, were living rent free at taxpayer-owned properties.
The 41 Action News Investigators did not receive any response last week from those two assistant county administrators, Brad Garrett and Nicole Brown.
After the meeting, the 41 Action News Investigators chased Garrett down a hallway behind commission chambers leading to his office.
“Why are you back here?” Garrett questioned.
“This is public,” the 41 Action News Investigators responded.
“Who told you I’m getting free rent?” Garrett questioned.
“Are you?” the 41 Action News Investigators questioned.
“Who told you?” Garrett questioned.
“Where are you living?” the 41 Action News Investigators replied.
“That is none of your business,” Garrett responded.
As the 41 Action News Investigators reported last week, county records show Garrett has a rent-free lease at the Mount Gilead Historic area near Kearney.
"Do you not live out there?” the 41 Action News Investigators asked Garrett.
“Who told you that?” Garrett responded.
“It’s in the contract, do you live out there or not?” the 41 Action News Investigators asked Garrett.
Garrett didn’t respond to the question and walked away.
In addition to Garrett, Assistant County Administrator Nicole Brown has a rent-free lease to live at a property near Smithville Lake, which Clay County rents from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Brown left Monday’s meeting before it was over and was not immediately available for comment.
However, late Monday afternoon, Brown issued a statement specifically calling out Nolte:
"Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte has violated the law in discussing confidential personnel matters in a public setting. His policy dispute should never have involved individual employees of the County.
His false allegations are shameful, and the affected employees deserve an apology for his helter skelter behavior.
I ask that he act in a manner fitting the office to which he was elected rather than the schoolyard bully I have witnessed in recent weeks.
One remark on his page calls for pouring boiling tar on me, for lawfully entering into an agreement with my employer.
As to county staff housing: We ask that the media respect employee privacy. Please do not publish addresses of employees."
Both Garrett and Brown’s leases say they are “on call” for six months of the year.
The 41 Action News Investigators tried to ask Commissioner Luann Ridgeway about that “on call” provision after Monday’s commission meeting.
“What exactly are they doing for this on call?” the 41 Action News Investigators asked Ridgeway.
“I can only answer one reporter at a time,” Ridgeway replied.
“It’s only one question ma’am, can you answer one question at a time?” the 41 Action News Investigators replied.
A short time later, an assistant pulled Ridgeway away, saying the commissioner had an appointment.
Later, the 41 Action News Investigators tried to ask Ridgeway the same question again as she was leaving.
“What are the on-call services? What are they exactly? There’s no specifics in the contract. Can you tell us Commissioner?” the 41 Action News Investigators asked.
“Andy, thank you, thank you,” Ridgeway replied as she closed a door.
Last week, Nolte tried to put his proposal on Monday’s meeting agenda. That proposal would require a vote of commissioners to approve similar county lease contracts in an open public session.
But then he received an email from Assistant County Administrator Laurie Portwood telling Nolte on advice of counsel, the proposal wouldn’t be put on Monday’s meeting agenda, even in a broad sense as a policy matter for discussion, not on specific contracts.
Nolte characterizes that decision as the tail wagging the dog.
“The county counselor has been somehow given veto power over what we discuss,” Nolte said.
Clay County has hired the Husch Blackwell law firm to provide legal advice.
The 41 Action News Investigators tried to ask Allee Barton of Husch Blackwell after the commission meeting why Nolte’s proposal was left off the agenda.
With no oversight on the rent-free deals from the elected commissioners, Nolte argues the administrators, like Garrett, have control over their own deals.
“Who’s making the decisions about these free contracts, can you tell me that?” the 41 Action News Investigators asked Garrett.
“That is none of your business where I live, you are endangering my life and Jerry Nolte is endangering my life by telling you these things,” Garrett replied as he shut the door to his office.
Nolte didn’t tell the 41 Action News Investigators where either Garrett or Brown live.
He did provide the 41 Action News Investigators the leases he obtained through an open records request.
Nolte, the presiding commissioner, also said he had to pay for that document request out of his own pocket.