By Ethan Colbert
There will be a vacancy in one of Pike County’s elected offices on January 1, 2019, after Michelle “Missy” Hunter Jaeger, the newly elected Pike County Clerk, submitted a letter of resignation on Monday to the Pike County Commission.
The letter was read and officially entered into the county record on Thursday.
According to the letter, which was obtained by the Times through a Sunshine Law request, Hunter Jaeger deeply regretted having to resign from the post.
“It is with heartfelt contemplation and deep regret that I submit to you my resignation from the recently elected position of Pike County Clerk,” the letter reads.
Multiple phone calls to Hunter Jaeger requesting additional comment from her were not returned as of press time.
Hunter Jaeger, who ran as a Republican, defeated incumbent Pike County Clerk Melissa Kempke in the November 2018 election. Kempke is a Democrat.
On Thursday, members of the Pike County Commission said they were both “shocked” and “saddened” to hear that Hunter Jaeger would not be serving in the position for which she was elected.
“To answer your question as to whether I was surprised, yes I was surprised,” Eastern District Commissioner Justin Sheppard said. Sheppard, a Republican, said he had heard rumors throughout the community that Hunter Jaeger may resign from the position.
“Rumors are rumors, but when it became official, I was surprised,” Sheppard said.
Presiding County Commissioner Chris Gamm said he was unaware that Hunter Jaeger was seriously considering resigning until on Monday.
“I didn’t know about it until Missy handed me the letter of resignation,” Gamm said. “Absolutely, like Justin said, the rumors that were out there since the day of the election have been running rampant. (I’m) sad that it comes to this. I know from talking to Missy that she was very emotional, but it was her call.”
Also blindsided by this news was Pike County Republican Central Committee Chairwoman Gale Griffith Frolos, of Frankford.
Griffith Frolos told the Times that she met with Hunter Jaeger in November and was assured by Hunter Jaeger that she intended to serve.
“Then, at 9:02 a.m. on Monday morning I receive a text message,” Griffith Frolos said in an interview on Thursday morning. “It was from Missy and it said that Chris Gamm had asked her if the rumors were true.”
According to Griffith Frolos, that text message spawned a conversation where Hunter Jaeger informed the party chairwoman that she had resigned due to lingering health issues.
“She was really in turmoil about this,” Griffith Frolos said. “She really didn’t want to put the county into this situation.”
Griffith Frolos told the Times that she and her fellow members of the Republican Central Committee met on Wednesday, December 5, to discuss the impending vacancy.
Per Frolos and other officials within county government, the Pike County Commission has 14 days from the date of the vacancy, which will officially be January 1, 2019, to name an interim county clerk.
This interim county clerk will serve until Missouri Governor Mike Parson can select an individual to serve until 2020, at which time a special election will be held for the remaining two years of Hunter Jaegar’s term.
Requests to Parson’s office regarding the selection process were not returned by press time.
A spokesperson for the Missouri Secretary of State’s office also declined to comment for this story and directed further calls and questions to the Governor’s office.
Precedence in vacancies such as this is that Governor Parson’s will consider the recommendations from the Central Committees of the Republican Party, Democratic Party, or an individual who is at-large recommended without a specific party’s backing.
He has 60 days to make his appointment from the date of the vacancy.
A spokesperson for the Pike County Democratic Central Committee said they would be meeting in the coming days to select someone to recommend for the Governor’s consideration.
“We are shocked by this turn of events,” the spokesperson said in a prepared statement. “Rumors have been circulating for several weeks and now we know the truth. The office of the county clerk is an important office for our county’s government and for the entire county, including the people who live here. This office touches everything from county payroll, to elections, to legal documents. This is not a position for a novice beginner. This office needs experience during this transition.”
According to two members of the Pike County Commission, it is their intent to have an interim county clerk named either on or before January 1, 2019.
“As a county commission we must decide how to fill that office in a way that is satisfactory to the people of Pike County,” Sheppard said. “Our intent is to have that office filled at the time there is a vacancy.”
In the meantime, employees of the Pike County Clerk’s office say they hope there is an interim named on January 1, 2019.
According to one employee, they have been instructed by the Missouri Secretary of State’s office that they would not be able accept any candidate filings, voter registrations, or complete any other business without a county clerk being named.
Candidate filings for the April 2019 election, which includes the 911 Board of Directors, school boards, hospital board, and other municipal governments, are set to begin on Tuesday.
Again, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office declined to comment for this story.
In an interview following the announcement that Hunter Jaeger had resigned, current County Clerk Melissa Kempke said she would accept, if it was offered to her, both the appointment of the Pike County Commission and Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s, who are all Republicans.
“Setting our partisan differences aside, the county needs a stable county clerk’s office,” Kempke said. “I would accept the nomination and the appointment of the Pike County Commission and the Governor, because I love this county and the people who live here. I want to continue to provide the same quality service that I have to the people of the county during my tenure as County Clerk.”
Kempke lost the November election by 202 votes after receiving 2,971 votes to Hunter Jaegar’s 3,173.