Madison - St. Clair Record

Monday, September 16, 2019

Wigginton bills county $31K for investigating signatures of tax cut proponents; Referendum ultimately passed 4 to 1

By Record News | Mar 7, 2017


Attorney Stephen Wigginton has sent Madison County a $31,725 bill for his investigation into petitions supporting a tax limiting ballot initiative last year.

An invoice from the Armstrong Teasdale firm in Clayton, Mo., shows that Wigginton spent 84.6 hours between the end of May and early July working for the county electoral board at a rate of $375 per hour.

The electoral board’s involvement in the ballot challenge was formed out of a political battle between Republican county board chairman candidate Kurt Prenzler who supported the initiative and then Democrat chairman Alan Dunstan who said that a property tax rate reduction would cut funding for vital services such as law enforcement.

Ultimately Wigginton didn’t find enough faulty signatures to block the tax-reducing initiative from getting on the ballot in November, and voters adopted the referendum by a margin of 79 to 21. The measure lowers the maximum levy that supports the county’s general fund from 25 cents per $100 of assessed value to 20 cents per $100.

Voters in November also chose Prenzler by a margin of 50.17 to 49.83 over incumbent Dunstan.

Wigginton’s invoice shows he met with County Clerk Deborah Ming-Mendoza on May 27, upon his appointment as special assistant state’s attorney.

It shows that on May 31, he took an oath of office from Chief Judge David Hylla and attended an executive session of the board.

 

Besides Ming-Mendoza, a Democrat, the electoral board included former assistant state’s attorney Stephanie Robbins, Democrat, and retired judge James Hackett, Republican.

 

The invoice shows that Wigginton prepared a memorandum on June 2, and attended an executive session on June 3.

 

It shows that he prepared for a meeting on June 6, met with Ming-Mendoza on June 7, and attended a hearing in the courthouse. It shows two telephone calls with Ming-Mendoza, on June 8 and June 14.

 

Wigginton had logged 22.1 hours at that point, and his pace picked up.

 

The invoice shows he spent four hours at a hearing on June 16, and seven hours at a hearing on June 17.

 

It shows he spent two and a half hours in executive session on June 20, four hours in a board meeting on June 21, and seven hours in a board meeting on June 22.

 

It shows he spent seven hours at a hearing and an executive session on June 23, and five and a half hours at a hearing and executive session on June 24.

 

That amounted to 37 hours in nine days.

 

The invoice shows he drafted an order for two hours on June 26, a Sunday.

 

It shows that from June 27 to June 30, he spent 7.1 hours preparing for an executive session on Friday, July 1. It shows that after the session, he met with Ming-Mendoza.

 

Over the holiday weekend, it shows he spent 5.4 hours drafting an order.

 

It further shows that he attended an executive session for four hours on July 5, and spent two hours preparing for and attending a final meeting on July 6.

As U.S. attorney, Wigginton prosecuted former county treasurer Fred Bathon on charges that he rigged bids on delinquent taxes at courthouse auctions. Bathon pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 months by District Judge David Herndon, a sentence that was later cut in half.

Wiggington could have sought restitution for property owners who paid artificially high interest during the Bathon scheme, but he declared that calculation of damages was impracticable.

Property owners currently seek recovery through a class action.

 

Wigginton resigned as U.S. attorney in 2015, and joined Armstrong Teasdale.

 

The county board’s finance committee planned to review his bill at a regular meeting on Wednesday, March 8.

Committee member Tom McRae, a Republican who represents County Board District 14 in Bethalto, said, “It is disturbing to me that we spend so much money on legal fees in Madison County.”

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Madison County Circuit Court