CARTHAGE, Mo. —
The Jasper County prosecuting attorney’s office is asking the Missouri attorney general’s office to investigate whether Sheriff Archie Dunn has used the assets of his office for his re-election campaign.
A letter was mailed to the state office last Thursday by Dean Dankelson, prosecuting attorney, citing five allegations and asking the office to investigate the claims. A day earlier, Norman Rouse, attorney for the County Commission and an assistant prosecutor, sent a letter to Dunn’s attorney focusing on one of the allegations. The Rouse letter demanded that Dunn refund to the county money that Rouse said benefited the sheriff’s campaign for re-election.
Dunn referred comments to his attorney, except to say that he disputes the allegations.
“They can make any accusation, but sheriffs have to take an oath to tell the truth,” he said.
Joplin attorney Bill Fleischaker is representing Dunn in a lawsuit against the County Commission and others based primarily on disputes over expenditures of the county’s law enforcement sales tax.
Fleischaker said the county will be reimbursed for the purchase of coins that were distributed by Dunn’s campaign, with proceeds to raise money for a local breast cancer charity.
He said the cost — $3,030 — was to be paid by private funds but was mistakenly submitted by the sheriff for county payment.
“It shouldn’t have been submitted to the county, but the sheriff didn’t catch it, and the auditor didn’t either,” Fleischaker said.
The county auditor did refuse to pay $306 for T-shirts given to Sarcoxie students at the Drug Abuse Resistance Education graduation that contained a “Re-elect Archie Dunn for Sheriff” logo on the back. That is another issue cited by Dankelson in his letter to the attorney general’s office.
The sheriff, in a statement released after the issue was raised at a meeting of the Sarcoxie School Board, said he personally paid for the advertisements as a sponsor, which has been done in the past by other sponsors to reduce costs of the shirts. Fleischaker said Dunn violated no laws because he was treated the same as sponsors on DARE shirts in previous years.
Fleischaker said he is pleased that the allegations have been sent to the attorney general’s office.
“I’m glad we can get someone objective, rather than local people involved in local politics,” he said. “This is the same reason why we had to go to court, and it’s why I argued the prosecuting attorney’s office should not be able to represent the county.”
The judge overruled Fleischaker’s argument. He also overruled the county’s argument that the case should be dismissed.
Dankelson said he had not yet heard from the attorney general’s office. Nanci Gonder, spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster, said Dankelson’s letter was received on Tuesday.
“We’ve received it, and it’s under review,” she said.
In addition to questions raised about the coins and the T-shirts, Dankelson’s letter also cited allegations that a Sheriff’s Department employee created Dunn’s campaign website on county time, and that Sheriff’s Department vehicles and equipment were used to promote the sheriff’s re-election.
“They’re taking things done in the normal course of business and trying to turn them into something improper,” Fleischaker said.
The prosecutor in his letter to the state said the sheriff purchased souvenir coins to promote breast cancer awareness, with the purchase promoted on the “Re-elect Archie Dunn” Facebook page.
“This creates the appearance that Dunn is using coins purchased with government funds for his own individual gain,” Dankelson wrote.
Fleischaker said the county will be reimbursed for the cost of the coins with private funds, “but it’s no different than any other campaign raising money for a charity.”
“These are things we’ll let the AG decide, but my concern was that county funds were used to purchase coins that were then being used for a political campaign,” the prosecutor said.
Dankelson also cited an allegation that Kevin Forcum, a deputy in the sheriff’s information technology department, worked on the website for the sheriff’s re-election campaign on county time. The letter notes that the page was completed Nov. 7, 2011, and that Forcum noted its completion at 2:30 p.m. by a posting on Facebook. Forcum was at work at the time, according to Warren Hildebrandt, who questioned another deputy. Hildebrandt, a former deputy, is the campaign manager for Larry Newman, a candidate for sheriff.
Fleischaker on Wednesday said he questioned Forcum, who said he added one element to the sheriff’s site, then reported on his Facebook page that the job was finished. Fleischaker said Forcum was at the Sheriff’s Department at the time but was on break, and said the site was created on his own time, away from work. He said Forcum said he used a county computer, but with his own hard drive.
“He added a link, but he was on break at the time,” Fleischaker said. “And he used his own hard drive, because he does websites as a sideline.”
Dankelson’s letter also said the Sheriff’s Department command center, a sheriff’s patrol car and motorcycle were parked near Dunn’s re-election tent at a May 19 law enforcement football game. The letter also said that Dunn on May 15 sent an email from the sheriff’s office account to employees of the office with an attachment called “Facts about the Law Enforcement Sales Tax,” saying the purpose was to remind “voters” why the tax was passed.
Fleischaker said sheriff’s equipment was at the game “because it was a law enforcement event; they were offering tours of the command center.”
“But the sheriff’s tent wasn’t close; it was at the entrance,” Fleischaker said. “Are they saying an incumbent can’t campaign anywhere where his department’s public relations are taking place?”
The prosecutor said he “understands Archie Dunn is sheriff, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and wherever he goes.”
“But we need to make sure to separate the candidate from the officeholder, and that county resources are not used to further anybody’s political campaign,” Dankelson said.
The letter cites DARE T-shirts that were given to children at Sarcoxie, Avilla and Jasper elementary schools at the program’s graduation. All the shirts had on the back advertisements for Dunn’s re-election campaign as a sponsor. The issue brought protests at a recent meeting by Sarcoxie School Board member John Lewis, who has contributed to the election campaign of Randee Kaiser, a third candidate for sheriff. Lewis has said his support for Kaiser did not influence him, and that he would have had the same reaction if the shirts had come from Kaiser.
Dunn paid for the Sarcoxie shirts and said shirts for the other schools were donated. A sheriff’s deputy oversees the classes in the three schools. Dunn added the training in the rural schools several years ago after voters approved the law enforcement sales tax.
John Bartosh, presiding county commissioner, attended the meeting at Lewis’ request. He said the County Commission started looking into the issue earlier when members received phone calls from some parents in Avilla.
The Sarcoxie school superintendent sent a letter of protest to Dunn concerning the shirts before the board meeting, and Dankelson in his letter said school officials “are in the process of trying to recall as many of the shirts as possible and replace them with shirts not carrying the message.”
Classes had ended for the year at Avilla, and no official was available to answer questions. Superintendent Rick Stark in Jasper said he learned that the shirts were passed out at the DARE graduation a few weeks ago. He said he had received no calls from parents or others, but that it was not “a good idea for the school district to get involved in politics.”
SHERIFF ARCHIE DUNN’S LAWSUIT challenges County Commission actions concerning the law enforcement sales tax, and asks that the county commissioners be held personally liable for Dunn’s attorney fees.