Commissioners look at who pays county offices’ legal bills

Who pays for outside attorneys used by Cole County departments and county elected officials was the main topic of discussion at Friday’s County Commission meeting.

Western District Commissioner Kris Scheperle asked for the discussion because, as he said, “I don’t like to pay attorney fees when we (the commission) are being sued.”

Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger said the commission currently has an agreement where the commission pays for fees if there is a suit between themselves and another department or elected officer.

However, commissioners said they don’t believe they should pay the bills if the officeholder or department wants to appeal a ruling.

In particular, the commission doesn’t believe it should pay for the appeal by Assessor Chris Estes after Cole County Senior Judge Byron Kinder ruled Estes had to pay the county for computer service in his office.

County Auditor Jim LePage said he was waiting for a legal opinion on the issue, since it’s possible that because the county paid Estes’ initial legal bill on a case involving computer services that had been turned off, they still might have to pay those legal bills because the computer service affects residents.

Also discussed Friday was how the county has contracted with the Missouri Public Entity Risk Management Fund (MOPERM) — a self-insurance fund offering local governments coverage for their liability needs.

Commissioners said they have a contract with MOPERM for legal services for elected officials, and that should be used first before considering outside lawyers.

LePage said he was concerned that, if a lawsuit dealt with the possible change to the constitutional structure of the office, an officeholder should be able to retain legal counsel who might have expertise in that field.

Commissioners said if it appeared that was the case, they had no problem with the officeholder coming to them to discuss the possibility of an outside attorney being brought in.

But they intend to use the contracted MOPERM lawyers as much as possible.

Also at Friday’s meeting, Cole County Emergency Management Coordinator Bill Farr said four emergency warning sirens still must be installed in the county.

He said the work had been scheduled to be finished by Jan. 1, but bad weather kept the work from being completed.

The sirens are located in Wardsville and on Southwood Hills Road, Big Horn Drive and Heritage Highway.

Commissioners expressed frustration with the delay, since they approved the siren contract with Meyer Electric for $351,529.30 last July, and they had expected the work to be done in October.

“They are out of time to get done,” said Ellinger. “There’s no pay schedule so, when the work is done, then they’ll get paid.”

Also Friday, commissioners approved an agreement with Jefferson City on two capital improvement projects to be funded by city and county half-cent sales taxes.

The agreement is for road improvements and bridge reconstruction on Frog Hollow Road, and intersection improvements to Dunklin and Lafayette streets.

A bill will be introduced at Monday night’s council meeting for the council to approve the agreement.

The cost for each project will be split equally between the two entities.

The Frog Hollow project is estimated to cost $2.3 million.

The improvements to Dunklin and Lafayette streets are estimated to cost $750,000.

Acquiring right of way for both projects is ongoing, and bidding and construction for both are expected to be done next year.

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