Official in Fredericktown loses bid for back pay

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- After first telling a trial court judge to reconsider his denial of a Madison County official's claim for back pay, a state appeals court on Tuesday reversed the trial judge's later ruling in the official's favor.

Madison County Public Administrator Kenneth L. Pate claimed he was owed $13,600 in back compensation from 1997 and 1998.

Pate, who had not yet read the decision when contacted, said he was surprised by the appeal court's latest decision in light of its previous ruling.

"I am taken aback because the court of appeals asked the circuit court to basically reverse itself," Pate said. "It did what the court of appeals asked it to do."

Pate, of Fredericktown, Mo., said that the 1995 panel that set compensation for elected county officials erred in authorizing the public administrator an annual salary of $5,100 instead of $11,900 a year. Pate sought the difference between those two amounts for 1997 and 1998.

Public administrators handle the estates of those who die and have no known heirs, and minor children and incapacitated adults who have no other legal guardian. The low salary for the post is because in most counties, public administrators also collect fees from the estates they oversee.

Pate first requested the higher salary, which he said was allowed by state law, from the Madison County Commission in November 1997 but the commission took no action. He sued the commission in August 1998.

The trial judged ruled against Pate in June 1999 and he appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District, which remanded the case to the trial court for further review.

The trial judge then ruled in favor of Pate, ordering that he be paid retroactively at the higher salary for 1997 and 1998. The county appealed, leading to Tuesday's decision by a three-judge panel of the eastern district court.

The judges ruled that Pate did not pursue his request for compensation in a timely manner and therefore was not entitled to retroactive pay.

In 1999, the county salary panel raised Pate's annual salary to the requested $11,900 beginning in 2001.

Pate is the Democratic nominee for presiding county commissioner, a post which pays $21,740 a year.

He will face Republican John Wright, a Fredericktown police officer, in the Nov. 5 election.

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