Tracy: Cape County Commission won't weigh in on county board's conflict problems

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cape Girardeau County Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy sees it this way: They appoint them, they don't manage them.

Despite the hubbub surrounding the Cape Girardeau County Board for Developmental Disabilities, the county commission won't be weighing in on conflict-of-interest allegations against board treasurer Jeff Baer, Tracy said.

Tracy's decision comes despite calls from Commissioner Jay Purcell to ask for a legal opinion from Morley Swingle, the county prosecutor who also serves as the commissions's legal counsel.

"You need to go to the proper entity to get redress if you have a problem," Tracy said. "You wouldn't call the police department if your house is on fire."

By law, the county commission has authority to appoint members of the board, which is in charge of overseeing taxpayer-funded services for people with developmental disabilities. But only the board itself has the power to remove them.

"So we could go and ask Morley for an opinion, but to what end?" Tracy said. "The proper entity to address that is the Missouri Ethics Commission. I would encourage any citizen to bring any concerns forward to them because they have the authority to do something about it."

Tracy's decision puzzles Purcell, who says the commission has asked Swingle to render opinions on board issues in the past.

"I recognize the ethics commission would be the ultimate decision-maker, but all I was looking for was legal advice as to whether it was a conflict of interest," Purcell said.

Purcell contacted the ethics commission, who suggested to him that the commission ask for a legal opinion from its lawyer.

Purcell at first asked Swingle via email to render a legal opinion on whether Baer had a conflict of interest, but Swingle replied that the commission as a whole had to vote on such requests. Purcell asked for it to be on the agenda, but Tracy and Commissioner Paul Koeper rejected the idea.

Baer, the CEO at a Jackson accounting firm, has admitted that he negotiated and voted for a lease that pays a client and business partner $1,800 a month for the board's case management office at 902 E. Jackson Blvd. Baer also admitted the board's case management program buys supplies, products and services from several of his firm's clients. Baer has maintained it isn't a conflict because he has never directly profited from those transactions.

But Purcell said it would be helpful to have a legal opinion.

"If Morley had said it wasn't, the issue would be put to bed," Purcell said. "If he said there is a conflict, it might cause the person who is alleged to be doing this to consider a remedy of some type. But they decided they don't want to seek out his opinion."

Purcell said he feels it's the commission's responsibility to get some of these questions answered.

"And we're failing in that avenue right now," he said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

1 Barton Square, Jackson, MO

902 E. Jackson Blvd., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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