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Cirtin carefully discusses whistleblower complaint, ethics probe

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Citing advice from his attorney, Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin was guarded while discussing allegations in a whistleblower complaint, as well as investigations by the state auditor’s office and the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Cirtin declined to specifically address former county Communications and Public Engagement Director Trysta Herzog’s signal to the auditor’s office over allegations of misuse of public funds leading up to the November passage of the county’s new half-cent general revenue sales tax.

“There will be an opportunity to do so. When the opportunity comes, I will have a lot to say,” Cirtin said yesterday afternoon in an interview with Springfield Business Journal. “Just because somebody says something, that doesn’t automatically make it true.”

Cirtin indicated he might call a news conference after the Missouri Ethics Commission completes its investigation of county officials’ alleged misuse of employee work time to promote the sales tax.

With the MEC’s 90-day window to investigate claims, Cirtin believed the investigation would be completed by the end of the month. MEC Executive Director James Klahr could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Meanwhile, Cirtin said county officials are fully cooperating with the MEC and delivering documents as requested.

Conversely, Cirtin said the county is uninterested in Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway’s process that followed Herzog’s whistleblower complaint to the office.

“We have always maintained that the Missouri Ethics Commission is the only agency who can investigate and adjudicate these issues,” Cirtin said. “The state auditor’s office, even if they would do an investigation, they would send their findings to the Missouri Ethics Commission. That is why we have not utilized the state auditor’s office.”

Cirtin said the Greene County Commission’s hired law firm, Kansas City-based Graves Garrett LLC, recommended the commissioners also hire their own personal attorneys for the investigation process. Cirtin’s personal attorney is Lowell Pearson of Husch Blackwell LLP’s Jefferson City office.

The commission’s attorneys are conducting interviews with county officials and will hand over their findings to the ethics commission, Cirtin said. Pearson is working to help guide him through the process, he said.

Herzog — who started yesterday in a new role as vice president of community engagement for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks — made a series of allegations against Cirtin in her Nov. 29 complaint to the auditor’s office.

Herzog claims she “faced nearly daily coercion on county campus, through county email and county-paid cellphone, from ... Cirtin to participate in political activities as part of my job.”

In 38 pages of documents provided to the auditor’s office, Herzog said she and others were told by Cirtin to spend work time on the Invest in Greene County Political Action Committee for the tax proposal, organize employee advocacy efforts, raise funds and come up with lists of donors. She believed the actions violated Missouri Statutes related to prohibitions on political activities by government employees.

In the documents, Herzog provided notes from a complaint she filed with the county’s human resources department. She detailed an encounter with Cirtin around Aug. 27, prior to the launch of tax campaigning.

“Bob engaged me in a discussion that I view now as grooming me to be compliant to his demands,” Herzog wrote. “He told me that I owe my position to him as he, and he alone, got me the job. I am to be loyal to him above all commissioners; I am not to speak in meetings; and I cannot refuse work assigned to me.

“In later meetings, he indicated that I must earn my right as director; that I am an overpaid (public information officer); that he has ousted directors before me and could do it again.”

After receiving Herzog’s whistleblower complaint, Auditor Galloway’s office in December issued a news release saying it was seeking permission to conduct an audit over the alleged misuse of public funds. First-class counties must pass an ordinance or resolution allowing audits.

Under Missouri law, public funds may not be used to advocate, support or oppose ballot measures or candidates for public office. Officials are allowed to provide information to residents about upcoming ballot measures.

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