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Audit of MoDOT finds $7 million in state road funds used for other expenses

An audit released Thursday takes issue with some spending decisions made by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The audit finds that MoDOT used $7,148,195 from the State Road Fund for expenses unrelated to road maintenance.  They included:

  • $3,757,610 went to programs promoting child safety seats, bicycle helmets, training, public information and outreach, and emergency response initiatives related to highway safety.  Some of the $3.7 million also went to local municipalities to cover some law enforcement expenses tied to highway safety, including equipment and overtime pay.
  • $1,899,000 was used to pay for settlements in discrimination lawsuits filed by former employees.
  • $1,461,585 was used to cover salary and benefit costs for 122 employees on administrative leave prior to their being fired.
  • $30,000 was paid to an employee to help offset the loss on the sale of a home, as part of the employee's moving expenses.

"The (Missouri) Constitution is pretty clear that that road tax money has to be used for roads," said Deputy Auditor Harry Otto.  "In our estimation, using those dollars to pay (for other expenses) is improper."
MoDOT's response:

The MoDOT disagrees the cited State Road Fund payments are not allowable under the Missouri Constitution and state law. The Commission's express authority to hire personnel carries with it the reasonably implied authority to pay salary and benefits to such personnel from the State Road Fund and to resolve employment disputes and litigation with current or former employees. Section 105.716, RSMo, provides it is the MoDOT's responsibility for the negotiation, compromise and payment of claims against the MoDOT. The Commission has the authority to 'otherwise improve' the state highway system under Article IV, Section 30(b), Missouri Constitution, which can include making state highway travel safer such as through promotion of safety belt laws, motorcycle safety, etc.

  "(MoDOT) didn't completely agree with us," Otto said, "but they did say that they would look for other (funding) sources in the future, whether it be general revenue or federal funds or some other kind of funding source to pay those kind of expenses when they incur."

Otto also says MoDOT violated the state's Sunshine law by not automatically disclosing a $625,000 financial settlement from an employee termination lawsuit.
"Those things happen, and employees have the right to sue," Otto said. "(But) after the settlement was determined and agreed to, MoDOT did not make public that settlement...MoDOT's position was 'we'll make it public if you inquire about it;' we don't think that's good enough."
MoDOT disagrees:

"Settled or resolved lawsuits are not published or announced in open meetings, but the Commission and the MoDOT treat settlement agreements as open records and provide such information upon request. This practice complies with the Sunshine Law. In fact, in the 2013 legislative session, Senate Bill 843 was introduced that would specifically require the publication of such information in an open meeting as the (State Auditor's Office) suggests, but Senate Bill 843 did not pass."

Otto conducted the audit because State Auditor Tom Schweich had recused himself to "avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest."  Schweich, who died in late February, had recently announce his intentions to run for Missouri Governor.
The MoDOT audit also included a reprinting of the State Flight Operations report issued by Schweich in January.  No new information was contained in the reprinting, according to Otto.
The full audit can be found here.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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