Commissioner refuses to give answers after Clay County doesn’t pay county employee

Data pix.

LIBERTY, Mo. – A Clay County commissioner runs from our cameras, just seconds after giving an interview to another news station. Why won't they talk to FOX4?

The FOX4 Problem Solvers have been investigating allegations of corruption and overspending in Clay County since 2017. Our digging prompted a state investigation, and now another new twist: a request for an interview and an unusual reaction from Clay County Commissioner Luann Ridgeway.

Thousands of citizens signed a petition to have the county audited, among claims of wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars. FOX4 showed you that misspending in several Problem Solver stories last year.

Then, the state auditor stepped in to take a closer look; the county tried to sue her and block the audit. That fell through in court, and the audit continues.

But so do the issues.

“We have a commission that has given themselves giant pay raises," County Clerk Megan Thompson said. "They've given themselves cash bonuses, and now they're refusing to pay an employee who has actually earned her paycheck. It's just not right.”

Penny Banhart

Penny Banhart is that employee. She already works in the County Clerk`s office part time, with benefits. Now, thanks to increased property values, the workload has doubled.

“This was a new -- a reassessment year. People's taxes went up. Some people are saying up as much as 50%. So those people are going to appeal,” Banhart said.

Part of the appeal process needs to goes through the Board of Equalization, or BOE. Banart has been helping home owners prepare for those appeals. The County Clerk's office pays her $14 per hour to do this work.

The problem is the Clay County Commission wanted to instead hire an outside temp at $18,900 to handle that work. That breaks down to $20 per hour: $14 to a temporary worker and $6 to a temp agency.

“They like to make it look like they're doing something, but they're not," Banhart said. "Why would you do that when you can simply give me $14 an hour and let me work for another 20 hours a week?”

Thompson decided, against the Commission’s wishes, to give the extra work to Banhart, in a move she said saved time and money.

Clay County Clerk Megan Thompson

“This was the best decision," Thompson said. "I don't know why they would be so angry about me and my office saving the county thousands of dollars by taking the fiscally responsible route.”

“I reached out to all three commissioners," she continued. "We try to get ahead of this before it was a problem. They've saw that this was coming.”

Outside of the $18,900, which was allocated to Thompson, but managed by Assistant County Administrator Nicole Brown, Thompson said there's money in her budget for this.

Thompson said she was told it was hers to spend, but the county has refused to pay Banhart for this appeals work she had been doing.

“We have money in there," Thompson said. "There was no reason for them not to pay penny her full paycheck. There was no reason for that. I made that very clear to them.”

Clay County Commissioner Luann Ridgeway

“I'm going to work 40 hours a week and eventually somehow some way they're going to pay me," Banhart said.

When FOX4 asked Ridgeway for an interview, she ran from our cameras, repeating, “You’re biased. You’re biased.” She wouldn’t give examples of how, nor would she give us the same interview time she’d just given to another TV station.

Here is the email response FOX4 Problem Solvers has received when requesting information for our two most recent investigations into Clay County:

From: Dillard, Megan <megan.dillard@fox4kc.com>

To: Brown, Nicole <nbrown@claycountymo.gov>

Cc: McCormick, Lisa <lisa.mccormick@fox4kc.com>

Sent: Monday, April 8, 2019 5:43 PM

Subject: Statement from Clay County

"Please provide any response/statement on behalf of Clay County in regards to the judge’s ruling today which will allow the audit to continue."


From: Brown, Nicole <nbrown@claycountymo.gov>

To: Dillard, Megan <megan.dillard@fox4kc.com>

Cc: McCormick, Lisa <lisa.mccormick@fox4kc.com>

Sent: Apr 8, 2019, at 6:01 PM

Subject: Re: Statement from Clay County

"Unlike other reporters at Fox4 and competing stations, Megan Dillard and Lisa McCormick have refused to report in a fair and balanced manner and have repeatedly proven themselves to be biased.

"There have been no instances of professional or fair journalistic practices from Megan Dillard and Lisa McCormick. Based on the dozen or so stories that precede today's, we can only assume this story is pre-written with malice and a lack of integrity. We will not stoop to the level of unprofessional journalists who continually resort to ‘gotcha’ interview tactics and clever editing rather than thoroughly investigating the facts.

"Will you be running the County's response this time, Megan?"


From: Dillard, Megan <megan.dillard@fox4kc.com>

To: Brown, Nicole <nbrown@claycountymo.gov>

Cc: McCormick, Lisa <lisa.mccormick@fox4kc.com>

Sent: Monday, April 8, 2019 6:34 PM

Subject: Re: Statement from Clay County

"I’ll be glad to post any response related to what I requested. Your email did not do that. So, since you represent the county for the media, I’m again requesting a response regarding today’s ruling. Thanks!"


From: Brown, Nicole <nbrown@claycountymo.gov>

To: Dillard, Megan <megan.dillard@fox4kc.com>

Cc: McCormick, Lisa <lisa.mccormick@fox4kc.com>

Sent: Tuesday, April 9, 2019 10:08 AM

Subject: Re: Statement from Clay County

"Unlike other reporters at Fox4 and competing stations, Megan Dillard and Lisa McCormick have refused to report in a fair and balanced manner and have repeatedly proven themselves to be biased.

"There have been no instances of professional or fair journalistic practices from Megan Dillard and Lisa McCormick. Based on the dozen or so stories that precede today's, we can only assume this story is pre-written with malice and a lack of integrity. We will not stoop to the level of unprofessional journalists who continually resort to ‘gotcha’ interview tactics and clever editing rather than thoroughly investigating the facts.

"Will you be running the County's response this time, Megan?"

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