Few rules govern elected officials in Missouri

Sunday, August 3, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com David Ludwig's desk in the county auditor's office in Jackson has remained as it was since he left his office April 17. The county's two deputy auditors, Virgie Koeppel and Beth Bari, were at work on Friday.

Cape Girardeau's County commissioners don't see eye to eye on many issues these days.

But none of them wanted Auditor David Ludwig to come back.

When an employee for the second time filed a complaint against Ludwig for printing pictures of scantily clad women where female subordinates found them, the commissioners called for his resignation. Ludwig refused.

In Missouri, elected county officials in noncharter governments appear nearly untouchable. There is no oversight to ensure officeholders are truly earning their paychecks. There are no attendance policies. No one to enforce ethics standards or address violations of interoffice policies. No recalls in counties such as Cape Girardeau.

This lack of oversight has proved frustrating for many working at the county administration building, where tension is building over the controversy. Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones was exasperated enough that Thursday he announced he will lobby for legislation to add a disciplinary board to the state salary commission.

County commissioners have given up trying to make Ludwig quit. The auditor is scheduled to return Monday to the office he shares with the two women who work for him. The deputy auditors are unhappy he is coming back. One said she is considering a lawsuit.

Like the commissioners, most county officeholders are upset about the situation, such as Treasurer Roger Hudson, County Collector Diane Diebold, Recorder Janet Robert and other elected officials who refuse to comment publicly.

FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com A recent letter shows that the county's chief deputy auditor, Virgie Koeppel, is in charge of the office.

1951 precedent

Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said he is powerless. Swingle investigated an effort to oust Ludwig by means of a legal tactic called quo warranto, trying to prove Ludwig had not done his job as auditor. He said Wednesday quo warranto is no longer an option.

Swingle points to the case Taylor v. Crumpton, which set precedence on the oversight issue. In 1951, the Missouri attorney general took a county treasurer to court because the man had, halfway through his term, accepted a full-time job for an oil company. The treasurer won the case after proving that, by visiting the office daily on his way to work, he picked up the county mail and delegated work to his employees before going to his other job. The treasurer also proved he spent most Saturdays in the county office.

During Ludwig's 76-day absence from the county administration building, he was instructed not to contact county officials or the women who work in his office, who have continued their duties. Last month, deputy auditor Virgie Koeppel sent budget work sheets to all county officials. She typically prepares the documents, she said, with Ludwig signing the cover sheet. Koeppel is credited by county officials with doing the lion's share of budgeting work in the auditor's office.

The county auditor's job includes accounting for all monies and how they are used. Every officeholder makes monthly financial reports to the auditor, who in turn reports to and advises the commissioners. County auditors are required by state statute to conduct internal audits "at the direction of the governing body of the county."

County Treasurer Roger Hudson said he has not seen any change in operations of the auditor's office since Ludwig left in April.

Hudson's job requires tracking money as it comes into county coffers and is sent to one of 50 funds. In 2007, his office tracked more than $30 million.

Weldon Macke was Cape Girardeau County's auditor for 34 years. During that time, he performed internal audits when other departments needed them. He had one of his two deputies produce revenue and expense reports while he did calculations, projections, produced worksheets and conferred with other officials to adjust figures and create the next year's budget. His deputies proofread the final budget and double-checked calculations. Most of that work now falls to Koeppel, who in the past concentrated on revenue statements, according to many county officials. The other deputy auditor, Beth Biri, works with county expenses.

Koeppel's yearly salary is $34,694; Biri is paid $18,632. Ludwig will earn $65,373 this year.

When Ludwig was first elected to office in 2002, Macke offered to train him -- a tradition in most counties to ease the transition from one official to the next. Ludwig refused the help, Macke said.

Since Ludwig's first election the county commissioners have asked Macke's direct help in doing three internal audits. The first time, he did it for free. In two following cases, the county paid him $15 an hour.

Ludwig did not respond to calls seeking comment.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

Jones suggests oversight board

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