Auditor, 2 ex-presiding Greene County Commissioners question Sheriff Jim Arnott's motives

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. The State of Missouri has received some one dozen complaints questioning how Greene County leaders may have used taxpayer money, according to the state auditor. Now the Greene County Sheriff wants a look at the complaints, with names and any other identifying information being redacted, and his attorney filed a lawsuit on his behalf to get them.

"Quite frankly a little bit of an unbridled arrogance on the part of the leadership," said former Greene County Presiding Commissioner Dave Coonrod. "They work for the citizens of Greene County, and there is an expectation that's incumbent in that."

Dave Coonrod, a democrat, becomes the second former presiding commissioner to speak out in favor of allowing the state auditor into Greene County to investigate. Coonrod and Jim Viebrock, a republican, are among those who signed the citizens petition requesting just that. Coonrod questioned Wednesday what he sees as a deterioration of transparency in Greene County.

"I have been somewhat appalled by this exercise that we're going through. It's not helpful. It doesn't reflect well on our community," Coonrod said.

Specifically, Coonrod cited the refusal thus far by commissioners Bob Cirtin and Harold Bengsch to allow the state auditor to take a look at county books following complaints from multiple whistleblowers. Instead, the two commissioners, records show, voted to hire a private law firm at the cost of $365 per hour. Commissioner Lincoln Hough voted against the private firm, records show, and told KY3 he supports the state audit.

Coonrod is also now questioning Sheriff Jim Arnott's effort to get a copy of those complaints, with redacted names and positions and any other identifying information, from the state auditor.

"It's really kind of mind-boggling to me that there would be an effort to drill down and find out who the whistleblowers are under the auspices of trying to find out what's wrong," Coonrod said.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway shares Coonrod's take on the request, saying in an email sent to KY3 News, "This lawsuit appears to be an effort to discover the identities of whistleblowers in Greene County, which we have a duty to protect."

For his part, the sheriff strongly disagrees with the auditor's assessment. The sheriff's attorney, Pat Keck, said in a phone interview with KY3: "The auditor should let the public know what the complaints are."

"If it is a complaint about something being done wrong in the sheriff's department, he wants to fix it," Keck said.

Keck also said in all contacts with the auditor, they have never asked for identities of whisleblowers.

"Since our first letter requesting information for the complaint we have asked them to delete the identity information," Keck said.

KY3 contacted a county spokesperson for the current Greene County commissioners for a response to the sheriff's suit. That spokesperson, Trysta Herzog, replied with this statement on behalf of the commissioners.

"Graves Garrett LLC is reaching out to the state auditor’s office on the County Commission’s behalf to determine the scope of the auditor’s proposed investigation and the costs that would be associated with it. This will help the Commission make an informed decision regarding any eventual investigation. The Commission is not a party in the Sheriff’s recently filed lawsuit."

Sheriff Jim Arnott's attorney Pat Keck told KY3 News Wednesday both she and the sheriff would do an on-camera interview with KY3 News regarding the lawsuit Thursday.