As a Madison County Board member, I am compelled to respond to and set straight recent inaccurate reporting in a local publication regarding Linda Dunnagan’s lawsuit against Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler.
Current estimates do not place the ultimate outcome of the case, which was the subject matter of a recent editorial, at $1 million. While the decision made by Treasurer Prenzler has been and will be a costly one to the taxpayers of Madison County, estimates are that it will not be more than $1 million, as was stated in the editorial after an apparent interview of Prenzler.
The seeds of these costs were sown when Prenzler made the decision to eliminate Linda Dunnagan’s job in January 2013, years before Kurt Prenzler decided to run against Alan Dunstan. At the time Mr. Prenzler made the decision to eliminate Mrs. Dunnagan’s position, according to Mr. Prenzler, the position was no longer needed, and the elimination of the position would save his office her salary of approximately $60,000. Prenzler indeed received cautionary legal advice, but the decision to eliminate Mrs. Dunnagan’s position was Prenzler’s and Prenzler’s alone.
Making the statement that the legal advice Prenzler received did not pass the smell test with either a mediator or a federal jury is beyond reckless. Unless Mr. Prenzler continued to act unilaterally when speaking with the newspaper publishing the editorial and waived his attorney-client privilege, it is impossible to know what advice Mr. Prenzler received. Contrary to the reporting in this recent editorial, it is equally possible and likely that Prenzler was cautioned against eliminating Dunnagan’s position, and was strongly advised to settle the claim once her lawsuit was filed. Legal advice is subject to the attorney-client privilege, and, as a member of the County Board Finance Committee, I can tell you that Mr. Prenzler at all times received competent and appropriate legal advice prior to his decision to eliminate Mrs. Dunnagan’s position from attorneys at one of the top law firms in the St. Louis region, who have long defended the interests of this county. Furthermore, no mediator ever made a decision or a recommendation, and no mediator was ever aware of the legal advice provided to Mr. Prenzler. Neither was the jury.
Blaming the county for the fallout of Prenzler’s decision is likewise uninformed and unfair. Officials who are elected by the citizens are entitled by law to a defense of decisions they make which lead to legal claims. For the county to settle the case without Mr. Prenzler’s consent would undermine the authority of elected officials and the long-standing policy of the county to defer litigation decisions to the elected official involved. In answer to the question posed in your editorial, Madison County voters should hold Kurt Prenzler responsible for his decision, which has led to liability. At some point good judgment must override partisan politics, and as a Republican member of the Madison County Board, I blame the decision maker in this case, Kurt Prenzler and Kurt Prenzler alone.