Madison County official will continue to seek back pay

Thursday, August 22, 2002

FREDERICKTOWN, Mo. -- Despite an appeals court's ruling against him, Madison County Public Administrator Kenneth L. Pate will continue to seek the $13,600 in back pay he says he is owed by the county.

In the meantime, Pate, of Fredericktown, is running for the top spot of presiding commissioner on the Madison County Commission -- the body with which he has been involved in four years' worth of litigation on the salary issue.

Pate, the county public administrator since 1997, sued the commission and the county treasurer in August 1998 to recover salary he said he should have been paid for his first two years in office. Pate claims the 1995 panel that determined compensation for elected county officeholders incorrectly set his pay at $5,100 a year instead of $11,900.

In 1999, the salary panel raised the public administrator's annual pay to $11,900, effective with the start of Pate's second term in 2001.

Could raise issue again

On Tuesday, three judges of the St. Louis-based Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District reversed a lower court's decision awarding Pate the requested back pay. The court, which was hearing the case for the second time, said Pate did not pursue his claim in a timely manner.

However, in a footnote to the decision, the judges said Pate could raise the issue of retroactive compensation with the county's salary panel when it reconvenes in 2003.

"They ruled I could get back pay if I ask for it correctly," Pate said. "What they've done is give me direction on how to go get it, even though on the surface it looks like they ruled against me."

A county public administrator is charged with handling the estates of those who die without an heir, and acting as the legal guardian of minor children and incapacitated adults who have no other guardian.

Low salary

In most counties, the salary for the job is low because it is supplemented by fees the administrator can collect from the estate he oversees. However, Pate says he averages only $200 a year from fees.

"I deal mostly with indigent people and don't even charge them anything," Pate said.

Pate, who is midway through his second four-year term as administrator, is the Democratic nominee for presiding commissioner in the Nov. 5 election. Pate served as presiding commissioner from 1991 through 1994. He said his dispute with the commission "played a part" in his decision to again seek the job, which pays $21,740 a year.

If he wins, he won't have to serve with any of the commissioners he sued. The two associate commissioners named in his lawsuit left office in 2000. Incumbent Presiding Commissioner Robert Mooney's re-election bid ended with a one-vote loss in the Republican primary.

John Wright, the GOP nominee for the post, said he doesn't plan on making the salary flap an issue during his campaign against Pate. However, he said some county residents have expressed concern about the issue.

"I think it could be detrimental to his campaign when people find out he is running for an office he is suing," Wright said.

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