Linnenbringer, Ransdall respond to claims by former sheriff J.T. Roberts
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 7:27 am
County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer responds at Monday's county commission meeting to claims made by former Sheriff J.T. Roberts in a letter to the Waynesville Daily Guide.
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (Jan. 6, 2009) — County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer and Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall aren’t happy with a letter to the editor printed in Saturday’s Waynesville Daily Guide.
In the presence of representatives from all four media organizations that regularly cover the county commission, Linnenbringer and Ransdall said Monday morning that they didn’t agree with former Sheriff J.T. Roberts’ written explanation of his motives and actions in asking the circuit court not only to order a recount but also to order a new election.
“I’m very disappointed in a person who has served the county well but has now decided to put a spin on things,” Linnenbringer said.
Linnenbringer had reported in her final tallies of the Nov. 4 election that Roberts lost by a narrow margin of 38 votes out of 12,884 cast. Those tallies show 6,403 votes for Roberts and 6,441 for incumbent Sheriff J.B. King, who has held the office since 2004 when he defeated Roberts in his bid for re-election to a fourth four-year term.
Exactly what Roberts is requesting has become an issue. As Roberts noted in his letter to the editor, state law allows losing candidates in a race decided by less than a 1 percent margin to file a request for a recount.
“What started out to be a simple request for a recount now may turn into a very expensive court battle if the County Commission, Sheriff King, Clerk Linnenbringer, and others have their way,” Roberts wrote in his letter. “I will now have to defend myself at my own expense, just for following the law and requesting a recount that I am entitled to receive at no expense to me.”
However, the court petition filed by Roberts not only cites the narrow margin of victory but also claims that Linnenbringer and other election officials were involved in various election irregularities that warrant an entirely new election.
“If he would only have done count one asking for a recount, this whole recount would have, I’m sure, been already finished,” Linnenbringer said. “I never had a problem with giving him a recount. He has that right. His article in the paper failed to mention a couple of things such as the whole new election. I’m not trying to deny him his constitutional rights, but we have to follow the law and the law says he has to petition the court.”
Roberts’ letter also makes allegations regarding where the money will come from to pay the county’s legal fees.
“The past two weeks, the County Commission has tried to borrow $150,000 to balance the budget. They have been successful and the money taken from the building fund. Even with the short fall they found $10,000 to fund St. Louis Attorney Ivan Schraeder,” Roberts wrote. “It makes me wonder why those office holders want to oppose the recount so vehemently.”
That’s not true, Ransdall said, who noted that the county commission had no role in the decision to hire Schraeder, who is the legal counsel for the Missouri Association of Counties and has previously represented Pulaski County in other cases.
“At no time did we agree to dismiss (County Prosecutor) Deborah Hooper or hire Ivan Schraeder. At no place is the county commission mentioned,” Ransdall said. “The clerk did call me out of courtesy to tell me she had talked to Deborah Hooper and even mentioned if the attorney general would do it; I advised the clerk that because this is a civil matter and not a criminal matter, the attorney general would not likely do it.”
It’s also false that Pulaski County is spending $10,000 on legal fees, Ransdall said.
“I want to make clear again that this is not county money; it is the insurance company,” Ransdall said. “In any case where county officers are sued, they will pay up to $10,000.”
Pulaski County might eventually have to pay a legal bill, but that would only happen if the $10,000 limit is exceeded for legal defense, Ransdall said.
Roberts’ letter also makes allegations against King.
“Sheriff J.B. King in his weekly article continues to tell the public that I have sued the county. That is totally false. I have not sued anyone; I only filed a petition requesting a recount of the Nov. 4 election results. The word lawsuit does not set well with most citizens and the purpose behind the continuation of Sheriff King’s use of the connotation, law suit is to degrade me personally,” Roberts wrote.
King wasn’t present at the portion of the county commission meeting during which Linnenbringer and Ransdall responded to Roberts’ letter.
While many county officials and residents learned about Roberts’ letter Saturday, Ransdall said he didn’t know about it until a day before Monday’s county commission meeting.
“I had a real good weekend, then I came home and got handed the paper,” Ransdall said. “The longer I read it the madder I got.”
Ransdall said he put Saturday’s edition of the Daily Guide away for about half an hour to calm down, and then “got a highlighter and read it again” before deciding how to respond.
Speaking after the meeting, Linnenbringer cited a section of Roberts’ letter in which he noted that vote totals reported by Linnenbringer varied prior to the final certification of a 38-vote margin.
“Some showed me losing by 27 votes and some with 40 and some with 38 votes,” Roberts wrote. “I asked the Court to consider a re-election if the Court decided that the violations were serious enough to change the vote totals. I also requested the Court consider a hand recount. I feel that a person is more accurate than a machine. In all recounts held this year in Missouri, the machine has been inaccurate. My main area of concern is the absentee ballots. I have no problems with the election judges or their ability to do their job accurately, I just don’t trust the mechanical counting device to be 100 percent accurate and when you are dealing with 38 votes out of 12,844, you want to be accurate.”
Linnenbringer said that’s correct — partly.
“He’s stating that he doesn’t trust the equipment and in recounts the number always changes,” Linnenbringer said. “That is true. In a recount you look at each ballot and if the voter circles the name of the person instead of connecting the arrows, that machine cannot read that they circled it.”
Linnenbringer said her office conducted a recount just a few months ago in a different race.
“(The total) is going to change. By a lot? No,” Linnenbringer said. “In August, we had a recount statewide of the attorney general’s race on the Democratic side and I think it came out that they put seven ballots to the side (in Pulaski County) because there were some indistinguishable marks in that race. They may have circled the name, put a checkmark or an arrow, and they could determine what the voter’s intent was.”
It’s not clear when Roberts’ court case will be heard.
A visiting circuit judge, John C. Brackman, had been expected to hear Roberts’ case on Dec. 18, after all local judges decided they couldn’t hear the case due to conflicts of interest. However, Roberts’ lawyers filed paperwork seeking the replacement of Brackman and requesting the appointment of a different judge; Brackman decided on Dec. 11 to withdraw from the case, and Pulaski County received formal notice on Dec. 22 that Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Laura Denvir Smith had assigned Circuit Judge William R. Hass as a senior judge to hear the case.
No trial date had yet been set, according to online court records.