Independence Examiner, Friday 01/24/03

Pay raise given to key official of county agency

Violated Sunshine Law

By James Dornbrook
The Examiner

An employee of a Jackson County commission received a merit raise, despite being found by a judge last to have purposefully violating the Missouri Sun shine Law.

The raise was given one month ago to Deborah Tircuit, director of the Jackson County Office of Human Relations and Citizens Complaints. The raise was the equivalent of a 10 percent pay increase, boosting her salary from $18.22 per hour to $20.04 per hour. It was given retroactively as about 2.5 percent per year for the last four years, meaning Tircuit received a lump sum payment of about $3,759.

The raise was approved by OHRCC commissioners, most of whom were also found guilty of violating the Sunshine Law. It is unclear at this time whether the County Legislature will grant approval to this requested increase in the 2003 budget.

One year ago this week, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Clark found Tircuit and Com missioners Michael Hunter and Gregory Gerstner guilty of purposefully violating the Sunshine Law.

Tircuit was found guilty for failing to release transcripts of a conversation between sheriff's deputy Gary Kilgore and citizen Karen Turner. Hunter said the transcripts were a major factor in a decision made by the OHRCC, regarding a complaint from Turner that the Sheriff's Depart ment placed her daughter Paige Turner in danger. Karen Turner complained to the OHRCC that Kilgore revealed Paige as an informant, during the investigation of the murder of Anastasia WitbolsFeugen. Turner said her daughter received death threats as a result.

The OHRCC Commission met in closed session to deliberate whether Kilgore should be disciplined. Clark ruled that the Sunshine Law does not allow deliberations to be held in closed session.

The commission decided Kilgore should not be disciplined. Turner was outraged because she was not given an opportunity to cross examine. The decision was not reversed after the Sunshine Law trial.

In a recent update on the case, there are documents that could prove Turner asked Kilgore not to release the name of her daughter. Turner called Kilgore on several occasions and contact sheets are normally kept by detectives, transcribing what was said. However, the Sheriff's Depart ment will not release the documents. In fact, the department was initially unwilling to say whether the records even existed.

Kathleen Kedigh of the Jackson County counselor's office revealed that the records are in the case file for Byron Case, who convicted of killing Anastasia.

Kedigh said that since the case is on appeal, the records were closed until the file becomes inactive.

Bob WitbolsFeugen, Anastasia's father, also requested the records, in writing, and was denied for similar reasons. WitbolsFeugen believes that since he was a party to the case he believes he should not have been denied access. WitbolsFeugen is currently debating whether or not to file suit.

In the mean time, WitbolsFeugen has asked the County Legislature to deny a request to increase the salary budget of the OHRCC.

"I say to you that, based upon her disregard for the law and the money she cost taxpayers for that disregard, she does not deserve a raise. She deserves the door," stated WitbolsFeugen in a letter to the Legislature. "You can't fire Deborah Tircuit, but you can tell her that she has already spent her raise. Do so by rejecting OHRCC's request for a budget increase. You can reject the entire increase and send them a message that there will be no new money until they clean up their act."

To reach James Dornbrook e-mail or call (816) 350-6322.
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