The Morgan County Commission has decided to appeal the circuit court ruling in favor of Morgan County Treasurer Louella Pryor in a lawsuit over $93,600 in back pay.
Receiving further legal advice since the decision, Presiding Commissioner James Vaughan said the commission believes the judge's interpretation of statutes was not correct and that commissioners believe they can save money by appealing.
Ivan Schrader has represented the county commission in the case but was not the attorney who advised them to appeal during the Oct. 17 county commission meeting, according to Vaughan.
He declined to release the name of the attorney and said the commission is currently keeping its options open on who will represent them in the appeal.
Retired Howard County Judge Ralph Jaynes granted Pryor's motion for summary judgement on Oct. 2.
From 2003-2010, Pryor received a salary of $33,300 per year. According to the ruling, her salary should have been $45,000 a year.
The judgement awarded Pryor the difference in pay for those years — $93,600 — with interest. Pryor was to be allowed to make contributions to her retirement plan retrospectively for those years based on the salary of $45,000, and the county commission was ordered to make contributions to Pryor's retirement plan in an amount equal to the amount that would have been paid for those years based on the $45,000 salary.
Serving on the Morgan County Salary Commission, Pryor herself voted for that salary though she has said that she has questioned the legality of the salary over the years. She was unsure in the matter, however, until attending an Oct. 2011 Missouri Association of Counties meeting where she heard an attorney speak on elected officials' salaries and came to believe the $33,300 salary was not right.
Pryor attempted to negotiate a lesser settlement prior to filing the lawsuit, but the county commission refused to settle.
Pryor subsequently filed suit, and Jaynes was appointed to take the case after two Morgan County judges recused themselves.
Jaynes ruled that Pryor was owed 100 percent of the state-mandated maximum salary for all eight years because of a 1997 vote by salary commission to set all officials' salaries at the full rate. The $33,300 was only 74 percent of state-mandated maximum, according to the ruling, though the decision to set salaries at 100 percent was never altered by subsequent salary commissions.
In 2001, the assessed valuation of Morgan County increased from approximately $266 million to $306 million. Crossing the $300 million assessed valuation threshold put Morgan County into a different statutory category for salaries.
At that time, all elected officials except for the treasurer received a salary increase to 100 percent of the maximum statutory amount effective Jan. 1, 2002, according to the court findings, which meant a mid-term salary increase for some.
Page 2 of 2 - No vote of the salary commission was ever made to effect those increases, and there was neither a motion nor a vote to provide for a lower percentage for the treasurer, the judgement stated.
When Pryor took office in 2003, RSMo Section 54.261 Subsection 2 and 3 did authorize the salary commission to set the treasurer's salary at $33,300 or up to $45,000 but no measure was ever taken to set the salary at less than 100 percent of the maximum, the ruling stated.
Then in 2003 during Pryor's first term, the Missouri General Assembly repealed Subsection 2 of Section 54.261 to set the salary for treasurers — of county's with assessed valuation of $300 million or more — at $45,000. The change removed even the option of setting the salary at $33,300, according to the ruling. If there was any doubt about what the salary should be, it was made plain that it had to be $45,000 on the effective date of the legislation on Aug. 28, 2003, the court judgement stated.
At the November 2005 meeting of the salary commission, a list distributed by then-prosecuting attorney Marvin Opie gave the treasurer's "base" salary as $33,300 — 74 percent of $45,000 - while all the other elected officials received 100 percent of their salaries ranging from $16,000 for the coroner to $50,000 for the sheriff.
If the term "base salary" had been used consistently for all offices, the treasurer's "base salary" would have been reported as $45,000, according to the court judgement.
As a third class county, the Morgan County Salary Commission had no authority to establish a salary for the treasurer at $33,300, the judgement stated. The only way the salary commission could have set the treasurer's salary at 74 percent of the maximum only was with a two-thirds vote to set all elected officials' salaries at 74 percent. All officers must receive the same percentage increase or decrease, according to RSMo 50.333.6.
By never voting to set the salary at 74 percent, the treasurer's salary was also not stated as a percentage of the maximum allowable compensation, making the salary commission's action unlawful and void, also outlined by RSMo 50.333.6.
In a statement following the court's decision, Vaughan argued, "In 2003 the language of one of the state statutes that governs the Salary Commission stated that her salary MAY increase to $45,000.00. Again, there was no motion made to that affect. In 2007, the language changed to SHALL increase to $45,000. Still with no motion made during the Salary Commission meeting, Mrs. Pryor was given the increase at the beginning of her new term in 2011."
According to Vaughan, the county commission acted under the advisement of their attorney who assured them that, due to the statute of limitations, Pryor would not be able to collect more than 4 years of back, if even that.
The judgement also ruled that the five year statute of limitations did not apply in this case because Missouri courts have consistently ruled that a cause of unpaid compensation does not accrue until the last date on which services are performed or when employment is terminated.