Challenger hands in signatures

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle is doing more than fighting District 2 Commissioner Jay Purcell in court over alleged Sunshine Law violations. Swingle has enlisted in the attempt to defeat Purcell at the polls in November.

Insurance consultant Rock Finch this week filed petitions with enough signatures to put him on the ballot as an independent candidate against Purcell. The petitions have 331 valid signatures of voters who live in the commission district, 13 more than needed, said Joey Keyes, elections supervisor for County Clerk Kara Clark.

Finch said late Friday that he had turned in additional petition pages with 100 more signatures.

The decision to run, Finch said, was spurred by a change in his business, not Purcell's actions. Finch purchased two ING Bank brokerages in St. Louis and merged his business, Finch Marbanks Insurance Consultants, with a Springfield, Mo., firm.

"I can do something publicly for a change, and I want to get in and serve and bring my knowledge and my character and integrity as an offering," he said.

Purcell said he was not surprised Finch was able to gather the required signatures. "I expected this, and I look forward to explaining to the citizens why I should be re-elected as their county commissioner," Purcell said.

Swingle said he has helped collect the signatures. Finch said Swingle has also offered advice on making sure the petitions pass legal muster, such as noting that several petition pages have Finch's name printed as the petition gatherer but are signed by another person who actually secured the signatures from voters.

The petition pages with the discrepancies contain a total of 127 signatures. The Missouri secretary of state's office couldn't find any state law invalidating petitions with a signature from a petition gatherer that don't match the printed name of the circulator, but the decision of whether to accept the petitions is in the hands of Clark, said Ryan Hobart, spokesman for Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.

Swingle cited his admiration for Finch -- and his abhorrence of Purcell's recent actions -- as the reasons for joining the campaign.

"The situation at the county commission has become so toxic, like Jay Purcell is a skunk that sprays everyone around him," Swingle said. "I hope everyone can move beyond the hatred that is there now."

Purcell said Swingle is trying to silence him and keep members of the public from seeing that their interests are being ignored.

"I just think it demonstrates how desperate some people are to keep the truth from coming out," Purcell said. "I am in total disbelief that Morley Swingle said those things. It is really sad. The truth will come out, and everyone will be shocked what place in this controversy that Morley Swingle has played in the lack of fair, open and transparent government."

While questions about the commission's compliance with the Sunshine Law have been raised in the past, it wasn't until the spring that Purcell, using a digital recorder, provoked an argument that has not been settled.

Purcell recorded a conversation he had with Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones during a trip to Jefferson City in February. He used the recorder in a closed meeting April 17 when commissioners discussed Auditor David Ludwig's Internet viewing habits and a belatedly notarized easement needed to move ahead with a county road project.

After becoming convinced the April 17 meeting was closed improperly and issues were discussed that could not legally be considered in a closed session, Purcell sued the commission for Sunshine Law violations. He also released the tape of the conversation with Jones to show he was willing to include the public in discussions of county business.

Jones and District 1 Commissioner Larry Bock have voted to fight Purcell's lawsuit, and Swingle sought and obtained the appointment of the Missouri attorney general's office as a special prosecutor to consider charging Purcell with illegally recording a closed meeting. Bock joined with Jones to strip Purcell of supervisory duties over several county departments.

"I am still disgusted with the secret taping by Jay Purcell," Swingle said Friday. "It shows a deviousness that has no place in Cape Girardeau County government."

Swingle said Purcell has shown a pattern of secretly recording conversations that "shows a deviousness that sounds more like J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Nixon than what we would have as an elected official in Cape Girardeau County."

Swingle, who has been prosecutor for 22 years, said this is only the third time he has felt compelled to take part in a grassroots political campaign when he was not the candidate. The other times were in 2005 to help Debra Tracy win a council seat in a write-in campaign against a felon and a sales tax to raise police pay in 2004.

Purcell said he will rely on the public's judgment when all the facts are known. "When everything comes out in the open, when the county of Cape Girardeau no longer fights me in court to keep the audio files from being heard, it will be clear what the motivation is and why we have got to this point. It will be very clear to everyone why this has happened."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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