The St. Charles County Council is demanding that Elections Director Rich Chrismer refund $221,367 in alleged overcharges to county political subdivisions going back to 2008.
The council approved a resolution that included the demand by a 6-0 vote at their July 28 meeting. Councilman John White (District 7) was absent. The resolution also gives Chrismer a deadline of 5 p.m. on Aug. 7 to initiate the repayment.
If no refund is made, the council requested that County Finance Director Bob Schnur send the refunds to the political subdivisions, which include cities, school and fire districts and the county ambulance district.
“The election authority made the mistake and it’s time to straighten it out,” said Councilman Joe Cronin (District 1) before the vote was taken.
The overcharge issue arises out of an audit and findings by County Auditor Brent Statler and Schnur who want Chrismer to reimburse the political subdivisions for what they say are election cost overcharges from 2008 to 2013.
In a joint letter to Chrismer on July 11 Statler and Schnur say the overcharges amounted to $821,239.80 from 2008 to 2013. Of that total, $600,000 represented overcharges to county government and $221.367 to local political subdivisions such as municipalities, school districts and other jurisdictions.
Chrismer agreed in May to return $113,000 in federal election grant funds to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.
According to the joint letter, the state’s audit, which predates the county’s audit, also found that local jurisdictions had been overcharged.
Chrismer was upset at the meeting that the council didn’t allow him to comment on the resolution or the alleged overcharges before the vote was taken.
“None of these allegations are true. It’s hard to believe that you gentlemen wouldn’t let me tell the truth,” Chrismer told the council immediately after the vote. “You didn’t give me a single chance to comment to you about his issue.”
Chrismer then walked out of the council meeting.
“You’re stealing money from the county,” he said as he left.
Council Chairman Mike Klinghammer (District 6) said Chrismer could have made comments during the public comment portion of the meeting. He and other council members say Chrismer refused to meet with Statler and Schnur after the audit was completed June 25 and the earlier audit was finished by the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.
Chrismer had said previously that he wanted to wait to meet with Schnur and Statler until after the Aug. 5 primary because he was too busy setting up that election to meet with them earlier. However, he had questioned their findings, saying the $113,000 was reimbursed because the county was overpaid.
Federal grants help offset the costs of elections. The county bills local governments for the anticipated cost of elections and reimburses them if any money is left over, he said. As the elections director, Chrismer said he uses federal grants to help with reimbursements and the election authority received too much in federal grants.
Using both federal grants and payment from jurisdictions for elections is at the heart of the dispute.
The joint letter states “you (Chrismer) may not collect both grants to offset costs and payments of these costs by jurisdictions calling elections.”
Chrismer said he wants to give credits to local jurisdictions for costs covered by grants rather than refunding the money – an approach not favored by County Executive Steve Ehlmann, Klinghammer and Schnur.He also questioned that there now appears to be more than $800,000 is in his election account, saying Schnur earlier said it was more like $432,000. He said he doesn’t want to release money for reimbursement until he finds out how he got so much money in that account.
“Somebody is playing with numbers,” Chrismer said after the council meeting. “He (Schnur) is saying I got money from the state and charged political subdivisions, I didn’t do that.”
Chrismer said after he walked out of the meeting that the release of the joint letter before the primary was politically motivated.
Chrismer is seeking a fourth term. His opponents in the Republican Party primary in August are former St. Charles Mayor Patti York and public advocate Arnie Dienoff of O’Fallon.
All seven council members and County Executive Steve Ehlmann are Republicans.
“I don’t kiss his (Ehlmann’s) ring,” Chrismer said.
In another action involving Chrismer and the election authority, the council voted 6-0 to approve a $21,750 bid from Election Source to provide 130 voting booths for persons with disabilities.
The council went against a recommendation to award the bid to Henry M. Adkins, for $25, 623. Adkins was offering a 10-year warranty for the booths as opposed to five years from Election Source.
Council members questioned the high bid and bid specifications and that the bids should have gone out earlier. Chrismer said he was hoping the contractor selected would have the equipment to the county in time for the election.
“I still cannot believe that were sitting here, mere days before the election, coming down to a matter of 24 to 48 hours whether or not were going to have them (the booths) in time,” Klinghammer said.