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Outgoing commissioners discuss time in office, pending prosecutor lawsuit

PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Dec. 30, 2010) — “After today, you guys become ‘honorable.’”

Those were among the final words spoken Thursday by outgoing Presiding Commissioner Don McCulloch during his last county commission meeting. Addressed to his successor as presiding commissioner, Gene Newkirk, and to incoming County Clerk Brent Bassett, it’s a reference to the form of addressing elected officials — “The Hon. Don McCulloch, Presiding Commissioner” — which appears in certain letters and printed invitations to special events.

However, the commissioners also discussed a letter of a quite different sort which was hand-delivered to their homes this week notifying them of a lawsuit filed by outgoing Pulaski County Prosecutor Deborah Hooper arguing that the county didn’t follow state law in giving her a pay raise.

Western District Commissioner Ricky Zweerink said his lawsuit notice came at a particularly bad time — he was in the process of rescuing a newborn calf on his cattle ranch which had broken through the ice of a creek.

“I crawled out in there and got a hold of it and drug it out… I drug it up on the (creek) bank and then it couldn’t stand up on its legs because they were so cold,” Zweerink said. “I ran to the house and was putting milk replacer and whipping that stuff up with hot water, and that’s when I got a peck on the door and the guy served me. I had milk replacer and stuff all over. I said, ‘Lay it on the table over there.’”

The commissioners voted unanimously to have the new county prosecutor, Kevin Hillman, defend the county against Hooper’s lawsuit. That’s a change from the county’s prior practice of using the attorney for the Missouri Association of Counties for legal advice in the ongoing pay dispute.

The two outgoing county officials said they didn’t yet know how they’d deal with the situation of being served with a lawsuit that would continue after their terms in office ended.

“I was not here in 2007; I could not testify one way or another… Ricky Zweerink wasn’t here in 2007,” McCulloch said.

County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer, who was in office when the decision was made not to increase Hooper’s pay, declined comment.

In other business, the commissioners voted to remove a number of items of scrap equipment and old equipment from the county’s register of insured items.

“All the stuff we’ve gotten rid of, we need to get it off the records,” said Eastern District Commissioner Bill Farnham. “A chain saw purchased five or six years ago is not going to be worth that… there’s no way in today’s market you could get sell it or get that out of it if something would happen to it for insurance purposes.”

All the votes at Thursday’s final meeting of the commission were unanimous, and McCulloch noted that’s been the common practice since he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Bill Ransdall, who resigned to accept an appointment by Gov. Jay Nixon to state office.

“I don’t think we had any big controversies between us three; I don’t think we ever voted opposite to each other,” McCulloch said.

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