BLOOMFIELD, Mo. -- Stoddard County Prosecutor Russ Oliver stood his ground while being questioned by county elected officials and the commission about his intention to give his employees a $1,000 Christmas bonus this year. Oliver approached the commission last week about signing vouchers to authorize the bonuses, but both Presiding Commissioner Greg Mathis and Commission-er Frank Sifford refused. Both said it was unfair to other county employees.
Oliver said he has discretionary funds available (delinquent tax funds) that may be used to pay for the bonuses. He also stated that dispersal of those funds does not require approval from the commission.
Under Missouri Revised Statutes, Chapter 56, Section 56.312 it states, "No prior approval of the expenditures from this fund shall be required by the governing body of the county... nor shall any prior audit or encumbrance of the fund be required before any expenditure is made by the prosecuting attorney from this fund. This fund may be audited by the state auditor's office or the appropriate auditing agency."
The statute goes on to list those things that money may be expended for, including "salary supplements for existing employees."
Mathis opened the meeting by asking Oliver to explain the giving of bonuses to other elected office holders.
"The money is generated from fees by our office," said Oliver. "This is something I'm doing on my own. It is my decision."
Discussion followed about commission approval.
"I'm not going to sign," said Mathis. "Giving a bonus to one office isn't fair to all the other offices. It will cause problems in this building."
County Recorder Kay Asbell stated, "It isn't fair. It will cause employees' salaries to be unfair."
Mathis asked Commis-sioner Carol Jarrell if she had a comment.
"No, not at this time," responded Jarrell.
Sifford looked at Oliver and stated, "I've been here 26 years. I know your mother and your father, and I will tell you I am very disappointed in you."
Sifford said the discretionary fund only brought in $313 last year, and questioned how that was going to pay for the bonuses. Balances from the fund carry over to the next year.
Oliver said he had dropped obtaining fees from this program last year due to some concerns, but has re-instituted it.
"I have employees who could walk out right now and make $15,000 more a year with a law firm," commented Oliver. "They are good employees and I want to keep them."
Asbell pointed out that some county offices do not have a discretionary fund to give money to their employees, and they, too, could make more by taking another job.
County Assessor Jody Lemmon said, "I've been here a long time, and we've always tried to treat everyone the same." He cited his time as commissioner as well in saying that all employees were to be treated the same.
"I don't agree at all!" exclaimed Lemmon. "I also have discretionary funds. I could do the same thing, but some offices don't have the funds."
Coroner Aaron Mathis noted that he was only part-time, but said he believed with the economy still struggling and the money the county had expended on the mold issue in the Justice Center, that "now is not the time" to give bonuses.
"I have one employee who has been here 40 years," County Collector Carla Moore stated. "She deserves it, but I can't do that. I think this will bother everyone."
Abernathy asked the commission if Oliver gives the bonuses, will his employees get raises next year?
Mathis responded, "That will be up to the new commission." Sifford is leaving and Republican Danny Talkington is taking his place.
Sifford said, "I don't think we should be paying your employees overtime. We paid out over $15,000 in overtime in your office last year."
He also questioned whether the county should be paying mileage to employees in the prosecutor's office for serving subpoenas. He said they should be doing that on their own time.
Oliver later discussed the issue with Sifford and said his employees were not receiving the special fees paid to "process servers."
"I view this as part of their job," Oliver said. "We are paying only their mileage."
Sifford said he thought they were receiving the fees paid to process servers.
Sifford said paying the bonus to Oliver's employees would lead to a problem with the auditors.
County Clerk Joe Watson said a similar circumstance in a neighboring county led to an "audit exception."
In that opinion by the State Auditor, it was stated, "The county made one-time payments in lieu of permanent cost of living adjustments (COLAs) to employees and elected officials which may be in conflict with the Missouri Constitution." It goes on to state, after noting that it was done at the end of each fiscal year based on the prior year's fiscal outcome, "However, awarding additional pay to employees or elected officials on a discretionary basis appears to conflict with Article III, Section 39, Missouri Constitution which prohibits granting any extra compensation, fee or allowance to employees for services already rendered."
Oliver said he would not be receiving any bonus and he believed that law dealt with elected officials.
"In no way, shape or form am I giving myself money," said Oliver.
Mathis thanked all those attending, including Oliver. He told Oliver that he simply wanted everyone to have a chance for input, and that it was better to have everyone in the same room for the discussion. He said otherwise it would be passed along second-hand around the Government Building.
The only action taken by the commission Monday was to appoint Nicole Thompson to the Workforce Investment Board. She works in Human Resources for Tyson Foods in Dexter. She replaced Dan Heile, who was with Nestle Purina Pet Foods.