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Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens resigns

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens announces his resignation in the governor's office on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 in Jefferson City. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — When he rocketed to office in January 2017, then-Gov. Eric Greitens promised to clean up the capital city — but a state audit released Wednesday said the Republican continued the questionable practices of his predecessors during his 17 months in office.

Like previous governors, Greitens billed other state agencies when costs exceeded his office budget. And like his predecessors, Greitens used the Missouri Highway Patrol for security and travel for political and personal activities yet didn’t reimburse the state for any of it.

The 37-page audit, issued by Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat running for governor, contains several nuggets from inside the Greitens administration, which acted opaquely during his short tenure. It comes 15 months after he resigned, dogged by allegations of sexual assault and campaign finance violations.

Overall, Greitens earned a rating of “fair,” the same subpar score former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, received from Galloway’s office two years ago. The auditor’s office reviews the operations of every statewide officeholder after they leave office.

The audit says Greitens’ office spent $201,300 to defend itself against allegations he and his team broke the Sunshine Law by using a smartphone application that automatically deletes text messages.

The governor’s office spent $26,700 from its fiscal 2019 legal budget when it burned through everything budgeted for 2018, the audit says.

The audit also said Greitens’ calendar “was not always maintained in a detailed manner.” The audit said the governor “should maintain an official calendar that adequately details the nature and official duties of all travels and office functions.”

Greitens also billed the state for personal groceries, despite earning an annual salary of $134,000. Galloway’s audit of Nixon’s administration noted that he, too, billed the state for groceries.

(Two audits of the office of former Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, say he used state security and travel resources without reimbursing the state, but the reports do not specifically say taxpayers paid for his groceries.)

“As a general rule, state resources should be used for a public purpose, for the benefit of the general public, and not for political or personal gain,” the audit said.

Galloway said state law is “ambiguous” and “contradictory” when it comes to governors using state resources for personal purposes.

“If the state intends to allow the governor to use state resources for anything other than official state purposes, legislation should be pursued to clearly allow this practice,” the audit said.

Until the law is changed, “with the possible exception of security, the use of any state resource by the governor for purposes other than official state business should be reimbursed or discontinued.”

The audit then prods current Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican whom Galloway will likely face in next year’s election.

“The Office of Governor (should) pursue legislation regarding its use of state resources, including those of the MSHP, for anything other than official use,” the audit said.

Christopher Limbaugh, general counsel to Parson, responded in a letter to Galloway’s office: “To the extent the Auditor finds these statutes need to be amended she is welcome to offer legislative proposals to accomplish this goal.”

A spokeswoman for Parson did not say whether he pays for his own groceries or bills the state. A Highway Patrol spokesman said the agency does not provide air travel for nonofficial business.

It was also unclear whether his campaign will reimburse the Highway Patrol for security provided at his Saturday campaign announcement, or for services at any other events.

“The governor adheres to relevant state statutes concerning the use of state resources,” Limbaugh said in a letter to the auditor.

A campaign spokesman for Galloway said that as governor, she would “follow the recommendations she made as auditor. She has proven her fiscal responsibility by running her office under budget every year.”

Former Greitens aide Jeffrey Earl said the governor’s office during Greitens’ tenure “followed all state laws and regulations regarding the use and expenditure of state resources, consistent with previous governors. The governor is on duty at all times.”

Greitens did not rely on Missouri Highway Patrol aircraft to the extent Nixon did.

Galloway’s office found Nixon used the state aircraft more and more to fly to his future St. Louis home during his final months in office.

But, instead of billing taxpayers, Greitens preferred flying privately. He was able to save the state money, but it was harder to track his whereabouts, and questions about who was paying his airfare raised conflict-of-interest concerns.

The audit notes Greitens reported “out-of-state lodging and travel benefits valued at about $227,000 for various meetings or political events” on personal financial disclosures with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Parson, since taking office, has opted to crisscross Missouri on state aircraft, his office said.

Galloway’s audit also said approximately $1.5 million in Greitens’ office costs “were shifted” to other agencies.

The audit said this type of budgeting “distorts” the true cost of operating the governor’s office. Earl, Greitens’ former aide, said the office “accounted for its operational costs in a manner that properly reflected the nature of the work it performed.”

Galloway also says the governor should work to further trim the number of state boards and commissions, though Limbaugh said the audit “offers no specifics as to how the process should he expedited.”

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