Morgan County Commission to pay nearly $100,000 in back pay lawsuit

The Morgan County Commission owes Louella Pryor more than $93,600 after a judge ruled in the Morgan County Treasurer's favor in the back pay lawsuit she filed in April 2012.

"This has been very hard for me. It is really easy for me to stand up for others - elderly, handicapped, innocent people - but it was hard to stand up for myself. I hope that this does not ever happen to anyone else in Morgan County, regardless of their job, political party or gender. I hope the citizens of Morgan County will now realize that not only do I stand up for others, my family, but I will stand up for them," Pryor commented.

On Oct. 2, Judge Ralph Jaynes granted Pryor's motion for summary judgement and denied the county commission's cross motion for summary judgement.

The retired Howard County judge found that Pryor is owed back pay after eight years receiving only 74 percent of the state-mandated maximum salary while the other elected officials all received 100 percent of their maximum salaries.
Jaynes was given the case after Morgan County Circuit judges Stan Moore and Ken Hayden were recused.

From 2003-2010, Pryor received a salary of $33,300 per year instead of $45,000.

The judgement awarded Pryor the difference in pay for those years - $93,600 - with interest. Pryor will be allowed to make contributions to her retirement plan retrospectively for those years based on the salary of $45,000. The county commission has also been 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.

Prior to filing the suit, Pryor offered to settle for four years or $46,800 without interest, but the county commission refused to settle.

After preliminary findings from the judge indicated that he would like to see a compromise between the two parties, the county commission considered a settlement with Pryor in a closed session Sept. 19 but ultimately voted against it.

In 1997, the Morgan County Salary Commission established the salary for each elected official at 100 percent of the then-existing statutory upper limit.

The next set of recorded meetings took place in 2001. The salary commission met again and "took no action" regarding salaries, according to minutes from the meetings.

In 2001, the assessed valuation of Morgan County also 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. For some of these officials, that meant a mid-term salary increase.

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 court 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.

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. 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.

Yet, 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 also states.

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.

The position should have been at $45,000 before Pryor took office, but even if not, there should have been no issue over giving Pryor the raise mid-term, the court judgement stated.

In State ex rel. George, supra, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a midterm salary increase for a county official because the increase resulted from a change in state statute regarding calculation of compensation. The midterm increase was supported because the purpose of the provision in the state constitution against these increase it to prevent officials from using their power to gives themselves raises.

As Pryor did not participate in the decision by the General Assembly to change her compensation, there was no misuse of power for personal benefit.

According to the court judgement, other elected officials in Morgan County had received midterm salary increases without action from the salary commission prior to this case.

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.

The last date Pryor received less than 100 percent of the salary was Dec. 31, 2010.

With no action changing the salaries from 100 percent of the maximum and the application of RSMo Section 54.261.1 placing elected officials' salaries into a higher range, the treasurer's salary should have been the maximum statutory amount of $45,000 when Pryor first took office Jan. 1, 2003.