Tensions ran high during Tuesday’s county commission meeting as one resident called for the firing of a county official while the county counselor said certain citizens burden taxpayers with litigation.
“The county counselor who writes these commission orders should be terminated for blatant errors of various orders over the past several years,” Art LeBeau of Villa Ridge told the county commission Tuesday.
County Counselor Mark Vincent responded that LeBeau and Eric Reichert, also of Villa Ridge, burden taxpayers by taking legal action against the county.
“The money that we spend is a direct result of the appeals that they take, and if anybody’s burdening the taxpayers it’s these gentlemen who continuously file appeals in cases,” Vincent said.
LeBeau on Tuesday threatened to sue if the county commission approved an order to appoint two attorneys as assistant county counselors.
The order to appoint Joseph Purschke and Steven White assistant county counselors violates state statute, LeBeau told Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer and First District Commissioner Tim Brinker before the order was approved in a 2-0 vote.
Second District Commissioner Mike Schatz was not present.
LeBeau said the commission order violates state statute 56.650. LeBeau took issue with the fact that the commission order says that the county counselor, with the approval of the commission, may “employ” assistant county counselors.
“We cannot employ Purschke and White; they are not employees of the county,” LeBeau said after the meeting. “They can be appointed. The commission order says employ.”
He added, “What I’m saying is follow the statutes. This is not a valid commission order.”
Vincent said he has the right to suggest to the commission who gets appointed assistant counselors.
He said he was not going to debate the difference between contract employees and W-2 employees.
“It is clear that I have the right, subject to your approval and the compensation you set, to control the appointment of and removal of assistant county counselors and other employees that work in my department,” Vincent told the commission.
LeBeau told the county commissioners that the order should be tabled.
“I sincerely doubt if any of the commissioners have completely read this order and checked it in relation to the statute,” he said.
Vincent said Reichert and LeBeau simply don’t like him, Brinker or Griesheimer.
“They don’t like me; they don’t like you,” Vincent said “It’s just a fact, and it doesn’t bother me anymore. It doesn’t upset me, but it’s just a shame that we have to spend good money on defending appeals of this nature.”
Prior to LeBeau and Reichert, there had been very few appeals filed against the county in his 24 years working for the county, Vincent said.
The county had not been sued much before because the “people were asleep,” Reichert told The Missourian. “But now the people are waking up and finding out that much of what the county does is at best gray area, questionable.”
Reichert added, “Perhaps if the county just did everything above board to start with there wouldn’t be any money spent.”
The Tuesday commission order to appoint Purschke and White came about because the prior order appointing them had to be rescinded. That order had to be rescinded because it had also appointed another attorney, Matt Becker, as assistant county counselor, and he is leaving the law firm.
Brinker said rescinding the commission order and passing a new one with just White and Purschke made “total sense” since Becker is leaving the firm.
The commission order also states that Purschke and White will be paid $5,500 per month collectively and additional fees for matters in federal court, the court of appeals and the Supreme Court.
The rate for the court of appeals work is not to exceed $125 an hour while the work for federal court and Supreme Court cases will cost an amount not to exceed $200.
“As to the amount of money paid to each of them (Purschke and White), that should be Mark Vincent’s job to take that to the appellate court and the Supreme Court,” LeBeau said after the meeting.
Vincent said after the meeting that he does not have time to handle all of the appeals filed by Reichert and LeBeau, which is why those matters are handled by the outside firm.