GREG LOWER

ERIE – Neosho County commissioners rescinded their pay raise and bonuses after heated discussion at a special meeting Thursday afternoon.

The vote to rescind the $10,000 bonus passed with brief discussion after a 10-minute recess to cool off. 

A motion by Commissioner Paul Westhoff to raise commissioner salary to $23,000 from $18,000 died for lack of a second.

The commission met with Human Resources Director Jim Meier, Treasurer Sydney Ball and County Attorney Linus Thuston, who said he had asked for an investigation and believed the payments might have been unlawful.

The special meeting was called to clarify the motion made at the final meeting of 2020 on Dec. 30. Commissioners said they intended the funds to be processed by payroll and come from the general fund, rather than payments from the Neosho Ridge Wind project’s payments in lieu of taxes. Commissioner Gail Klaassen voted against the raise and bonus at the Dec. 30 meeting.

But two checks were issued for the bonus, for $10,000 gross, including deductions for taxes and other items. A pay stub was issued Tuesday in error, another was issued Wednesday, but both payments were cancelled. And then one for commissioners’ salaries was issued this week. 

Commissioner David Orr sparred with Meier over the timeline of email messages and with Thuston over his role as county attorney.

Orr said Thuston is in charge of criminal prosecution, but county counselor Seth Jones handles civil business.

“You have no validity,” Orr said.

At one point he asked if Thuston was there to serve papers.

“Not today,” Thuston said.

“Goodbye,” Orr replied.

Orr said Thuston was upset with him over Orr’s opposition to payments made to an employee in the county attorney’s office.

Commissioners also discussed whether the budget line item to pay the bonuses had sufficient funds. They said the item could be reimbursed from the wind farm funds later.

Klaassen said they should drop the whole matter.

“Let’s not put the county in jeopardy,” she said.

Orr later challenged Klaassen to pay back her $18,000 salary if he did.

Orr’s replacement as county commissioner, Nic Galemore, will be sworn in Monday. County officials usually are sworn in as a group, but face COVID-19 restrictions this year.

Commissioners will meet at 4 pm Tuesday next week instead of Thursday.

The agenda for the special meeting included department head reports, public comments and commissioner comments. 

Department heads did not give reports, and commissioners voted 2-1 against hearing public comments with Klaassen dissenting.

Commission meetings for most of 2020 have been livestreamed on Facebook, but Thursday’s meeting was not due to technical issues reported in a post on the courthouse’s page.

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