Perry County Sheriff Gary Schaaf, who filed suit against the Perry County Commission in December saying he’s owed decades of back pay as the result of an error, amended the suit last week to include the county’s salary commission.
The move came in the wake of a motion to dismiss brought by the county’s attorney, Ivan Schraeder of St. Louis, based largely on the fact that the initial suit only named county commissioners as defendants, ignoring the salary commission, which is made up of both commissioners and all county department heads, including Schaaf.
After hearing the county’s motion, Judge Stephen Mitchell set a deadline of July 31 to amend the suit.
The amended petition, filed by Schaaf’s attorney, John Loesel of Jackson, on July 30, now includes all members of the salary commission except Schaaf.
At the heart of the suit is Schaaf’s allegation that county commissioners have not properly adjusted his salary according to state-mandated guidelines for more than two decades.
The county commission feels that Schaaf has had plenty of time to point out any error.
The suit seeks more than $25,000 plus interest and asks the court to compel the commission to set Schaaf’s salary at the proper amount according to state law.
Initially, those named in the suit were newly elected presiding commissioner Mike Sauer, past presiding commissioner Carl “Topper” Leuckel, current commissioners Jay Wengert and Jim Sutterer, former commissioner Patrick Heaps, and Perry County government.
Earlier this year, county officials issued a statement regarding the suit.
“The county record speaks for itself,” reads the statement, released by County Clerk Jared Kutz’s office. “Over the past 17 years, Schaaf had the opportunity, as a voting member of the Perry County Salary Commission, and he voted in affirmation to approve the salary he was paid.
Should he have had issue with his compensation, Schaaf had ample opportunity to address his pay rate with the salary commission.”
Schaaf, a former Perryville police chief, took office as sheriff in 1993. Since 1997, the suit alleges, the county commission has paid Schaaf a smaller salary than required by the Missouri Constitution and state statutes.
The petition filed on Dec. 28 by Schaaf’s attorney, John Loesel of Jackson, states that Schaaf should have been paid a salary of $46,000 in 1997, but was only paid $32,116.17 and that all further salary adjustments he has received were based on that incorrect total.
In the petition, Loesel wrote that had Schaaf’s salary been set properly in 1997, his current salary would now “well exceed the statutory minimum from said adjustments.”
Schaaf’s current salary is $54,298.
“The nature of plaintiff’s damages are ongoing in that to this day his salary is well below what it should be were defendants in compliance with Missouri law,” Loesel wrote.
The suit further alleges that after he became aware of the situation, Schaaf asked the commission to pay him what he was owed, but they refused.
“Plaintiff has been damaged by the erroneous and unlawful salary determinations by defendants, and has no other adequate remedy at law,” Loesel said in the petition, which also says that the minimum salary for an elected sheriff in a third-class county — like Perry County — is laid out in the Missouri Constitution and state law.
According to Article VI of the state constitution, “Except in counties which frame, adopt and amend a charter for their own government, the compensation of all county officers shall either be prescribed by law or be established by each county pursuant to law adopted by the general assembly.
A law which would authorize an increase in the compensation of county officers shall not be construed as requiring a new activity or service or an increase in the level of any activity or service within the meaning of this constitution.”
Chapter 57.317 of state statutes says that county sheriffs, except those in chartered counties, should receive annual salaries tied to assessed valuation.
In 1997, in counties with assessed valuation of $190 million to $249.9 million, which includes Perry County, the state-mandated salary was $46,000.