Two Piney Township board members resigned Thursday night amid a state investigation into alleged financial impropriety.
President Roger Martin and a board member, Jackie Cooper, announced their resignations in the parking lot of the governmental body’s offices situated off Forrest Drive in Houston.
Martin tearfully said it was an “honor to serve” Piney Township, which oversees roads and bridges in the Houston area. His resignation, he said, is to be formally accepted by the Texas County Commission next Wednesday. Martin left after making the short statement. Cooper read from a written text, saying he was resigning and had “tried to do the best” and had nothing more to say on the advice of legal counsel. Cooper departed.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol opened an investigation after it was notified of financial irregularities, the township’s secretary Pam McKinney and treasurer Diana Hill confirmed to more than a dozen people gathered on the grounds of the township’s maintenance complex. McKinney and Hill said they were unaware of any wrongdoing in the township until approached by a township employee. They both pledged their cooperation in the patrol’s investigation, which already sparked calls at the short meeting for a financial review by Missouri State Auditor Thomas Schweich. Townships aren’t required to conduct audits. Piney Township’s last one occurred in 2002, and was paid by the governmental body. According to a published financial statement, the township had total receipts of nearly $350,000 in 2011.
Documents have been turned over to a patrol investigator this week, and McKinney said she is to give additional requested items to the state patrol during a meeting Friday morning. Until appointments by the Texas County Commission, the remaining voting member, Hill, won’t be able to transact any business.
Among the documents under review by the state patrol are invoices related to credit card transactions using cards first issued in December 2006, according to the women. McKinney said she was unaware of the existence of four cards — the monthly statement did not show the number charging to the account — and knew only of two used by employees of the township. She said she felt betrayed when notified of suspicions by a township worker, Steve Cantrell. Bewildered by the allegation, she seized paperwork in the township’s office and took steps to contact Troop G of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, according to those familiar with the investigation.
Presiding Commissioner Fred Stenger attended the meeting, and said he was there as a private citizen who lived in Piney Township. Hill and McKinney said they had expected the full commission, associate commissioners, Linda Garrett and John Casey, to attend the meeting. Martin and Cooper met with the county commission on Thursday.
News of the investigation caps a difficult July for the commissioners. Earlier this month, a more than $22,000 bridge constructed in Upton Township in the spring was destroyed after two board members met and authorized its removal, which was done the next day. It was replaced by a six-culvert bridge without any load limit, unlike the first one.
The Missouri Ethics Commission is investigating a complaint filed by the Upton Township President William Brown, who confirmed the inquiry this week concerning the actions of members Robert Gladden and Virginia Austin. Brown has called for a state investigation by the attorney general’s office.
Another bridge in Cass Township was closed last week after concerns for safety, and that body doesn’t have the funds to replace it. In Texas County, one of 22 in the state that still operates with township government, each of the 17 townships assess a tax levy for bridge and road needs. Additionally, each receives state fuel and vehicle funds based on the number of miles within those boundaries. Those monies are distributed monthly by Texas County government, and the method had drawn the fire most prominently of Rocky Dailing, who replaced the Upton Township bridge with his own funds using the six tinhorns belonging to the township. Dailing has said he plans to sue the commission for violating state statute. Dailing and Gladden were among those looking on Thursday night in Houston.
The commission said earlier it can’t comment because of possible legal action.