RICHMOND – Clay County announced settlements in discrimination cases involving five top-tier employees who will leave county employment “on or before Dec. 31.”
“It is appropriate that the new commission will be able to start with a new staff and really turn the page for Clay County,” Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte said.
The announcement came while voters remained at the polls late Tuesday.
Voters replaced two of the three Clay County commissioners after Commissioner Gene Owen and Luann Ridgeway decided not to seek reelection. They had faced criticism for various decisions, including paying attorneys to keep Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway from getting access to all information she seeks to conduct the county audit voters demanded by petition.
Ridgeway and Owen signed each of the five settlement agreements. Nolte signed none of them.
“I did not think they were in the interest of Clay County and their citizens,” Nolte said as the polls closed Tuesday. “The allegations that were embedded in this were never presented to me through the human resources system. My understanding is that is what is outlined in the employee manual.”
Nolte said the issue should have been resolved by the incoming rather than the outgoing commissioners.
“This is about an obligation on the county going forward and as many of these decisions as possible should be resolved by the new commission,” he said.
Nolte said he did not receive sufficient time to consider the document before the vote.
Ridgeway and Owen have, typically, voted 2-1 on issues Nolte opposes.
Agreement decisions include various types of compensation. The names of the employees and key parts of the compensation agreements follow:
• Assistant County Administrator Nicole Brown will receive legal defense paid for by the county in the event she faces “any tort, professional liability claim or demand, crime or other legal action” regarding her work for the county;
• Assistant County Administrator Laurene Portwood will receive severance pay and a settlement claim that together total $86,483;
• Assistant County Administrator Brad Garrett will receive severance pay and a settlement claim that together total $76,885;
• PR and Events Manager Nikki Thorn will receive a lump sum payment of $69,047; and
• Melissa Mohler, who oversees county tourism, is to receive her regular pay through the end of the year and a lump sum “severance payment” of $42,687.
Each agreement alleges the employees suffered from mistreatment, with some allegations targeting Nolte specifically:
• Brown alleged sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation by Nolte;
• Portwood alleged sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation by Nolte;
• Garrett alleged harassment and retaliation by Nolte and the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, including shining a spotlight into his bedroom, following him and surveilling his residence;
• Thorn alleged a civil rights violation, abuse of process, ethical misconduct, gender discrimination and retaliation; and
• Mohler alleged a hostile work environment, discrimination and retaliation.