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Covering state lawmakers, bills, and policy emerging from Jefferson City.

Missouri Ethics Commission in limbo without a quorum

Gov. Eric Greitens greets guests at his residence he was sworn into office in January.
Gov. Eric Greitens greets guests at his residence he was sworn into office in January.

The Missouri Ethics Commission currently has three members, which is not enough to decide complaints filed against elected officeholders or candidates for public office.

The commission lost half its members last week when their terms expired, and Gov. Eric Greitens has yet to fill them. James Klahr, the commission’s executive director, said it can still carry out some duties.

“Before this particular group ceased to be a quorum, they did provide authority for staff to settle certain matters that had already been referred to staff for civil action,” he said.

And while the ethics commission can still investigate complaints, it cannot vote on any potential sanctions until it has at least four members.

James Klahr, executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission
Credit Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio
James Klahr, executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission

“We would not be able to take those before the commission unless and until we have a quorum of the commissioners,” Klahr said.

Meanwhile, some state senators have voiced concerns that Greitens will be choosing new commissioners who will then decide upon an ethics complaint that’s been filed against him. The complaint centers on a list of campaign donors from a nonprofit group created by Greitens before he became governor. The full Senate has to confirm the potential new appointees.

 Senators Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, and Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, talk about the ramifications of the governor appointing ethics commission members while an ethics complaint is pending against him.

Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, went so far as to call the situation a constitutional crisis while speaking on the Senate floor last week. He and fellow Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, based their complaints on Greitens stacking the state education board and housing development commission with loyalists who voted his way on housing tax credits and on firing former education commissioner Margie Vandeven.

But Klahr said he doesn’t think that’ll happen this time.

Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, strongly questioned whether the legislature was taking the right focus with its ethics overhaul.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield.

 “The (ethics) commission is really not a policy-making body,” he said. “I don’t know a lot about the details of what the board of education does or what the MHDC does, but I know that those are more in the realm of policy-making types of bodies.”

Klahr also said there’s been no pressure from the governor’s office to act on any specific issues supported by Greitens. He added that they do expect the quorum to be restored before the ethics commission’s next meeting on April 25.

Dixon and Schaaf both suggested that it would be in Greitens’ interest to not appoint anyone to fill the vacancies in time to investigate the complaint against him. But even if the governor fills them, Senate leaders aren’t certain there’s enough time to conduct background checks and other required procedures.

“We would hope our background checks would be judicious and timely,” said Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin. “We hope that it’s not postponed any longer than necessary, but if I have to call special meetings to get this done quickly, I’m happy to do that.”

The governor’s office has not responded to a request for comment about the commission vacancies.

Follow Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallGReport

Copyright 2018 St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Public Radio State House Reporter Marshall Griffin is a native of Mississippi and proud alumnus of Ole Miss (welcome to the SEC, Mizzou!). He has been in radio for over 20 years, starting out as a deejay. His big break in news came when the first President Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in 1989. Marshall was working the graveyard shift at a rock station, and began ripping news bulletins off an old AP teletype and reading updates between songs. From there on, his radio career turned toward news reporting and anchoring. In 1999, he became the capital bureau chief for Florida's Radio Networks, and in 2003 he became News Director at WFSU-FM/Florida Public Radio. During his time in Tallahassee he covered seven legislative sessions, Governor Jeb Bush's administration, four hurricanes, the Terri Schiavo saga, and the 2000 presidential recount. Before coming to Missouri, he enjoyed a brief stint in the Blue Ridge Mountains, reporting and anchoring for WWNC-AM in Asheville, North Carolina. Marshall lives in Jefferson City with his wife, Julie, their dogs, Max and Liberty Belle, and their cat, Honey.