Democrats on the House Budgets Committee are pushing the Missouri Gaming Commission to do one Registration Investigation Report that cost $ 395,000.
During a Thursday hearing on the commission’s budget for the coming year, Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, asked for details on the report that the Kansas City law firm Graves Garrett had submitted to the commission in January.
She was told that only commissioners saw it.
“Can we have a copy of this report?” Unsicker asked.
“We don’t have a copy of it,” said assistant director Tim McGrail. “The commissioners have it at this point. We, as far as the Commission staff is concerned, have not seen this and it is currently considered a closed record. “
Graves Garrett, a Kansas City law firm run by some of the most connected Republicans in the state instructed to conduct the investigation during a meeting of the commission closed on April 17, 2020.
The money used on the study, if not spent, would be used to support nursing homes operated by the Missouri Veterans Commission. Gambling Commission’s administrative fund transfers to support veterans programs decreased by $ 10.2 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, mainly because casinos were closed for nearly three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We expected to receive approximately $ 18 million this year, which is a significant and very effective reduction in our revenue support,” Terressa Sherlock, finance director for the Veterans Commission, told the Budget Committee on Thursday.
The only information about the scope of the publicly published work is the three-page engagement letter from attorney Nathan Garrett. The company will “act as an independent attorney in investigating the background investigation, processing and issuing of Missouri gambling licenses.”
The Commission has denied Sunshine Law requests from The Independent for a copy of the report, citing legal and client law.
During the hearing, Unsicker pressed McGrail to justify keeping the report confidential.
“Our general counsel and our outside attorney whom we asked about found this about the attorney general. They made that decision and told our chairman that it fits under a closed record,” said McGrail.
The Independent requested documentation of this advice from Attorney General Eric Schmitt and the General Counsel of the Gaming Commission, Ed Grewach. Schmitt’s office confirmed the request but did not respond differently. Grewach did not answer.
Sunshine Law attorneys interviewed by the Independent have questioned the decision to withhold the entire report.
By contracting a law firm instead of a management consultant, the commission followed in the footsteps of the Veterans Commission.
The Veterans Commission hired Armstrong-Teasdale to investigate the conditions in their nursing homes that led to widespread outbreaks of COVID-19 that killed more than 100 residents. The Commission published a 50-page executive summary However, in early December it was alleged that the full report was exempt from disclosure due to attorney and client privilege.
Schmitt contested the Commission’s decision to withhold the full report published in late December.
In an interview on Friday, Unsicker said she was not the only Democratic member of the committee concerned about the cost and that the commission hired Graves Garrett without tendering. She said she had not spoken to many of the majority of Republicans on the committee, but believed many would like to see the report too.
During the hearing, McGrail quoted a law the commission believes in exempts it from state purchasing rules and a 1980 statement from the Attorney General’s Office stated that no government agency needs to seek proposals before hiring private attorneys.
“There must be transparency in this process,” said Unsicker.
She also said she was surprised that no Commission staff member saw the report.
“I think if you want to commission such a report, you have to do something with the information in it,” she said.
The next meeting of the Games Committee is scheduled for February 24th. When pushed for the report, McGrail said he would ask the commission to consider it.
“I would like to pass this information on to the Commission and try to get a response from them,” he said.
If the commission refuses, Unsicker said, it would not be sure about the next step.
“I don’t know what is going on right now,” she said, “but we are the Committee on Budgets and I hope we can do something with the budget.”
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