News Briefs

Missouri Gaming Commission member resigns amid struggle over secret report

By: - March 5, 2021 2:20 pm

Missouri Gaming Commission Chairman Mike Leara, right, grimaces Feb. 24, 2021, as Commissioner Dan Finney criticizes spending $400,000 on an investigation of licensing decisions. (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)

Dan Finney, who has complained publicly about the cost and intent of an investigation into Missouri Gaming Commission licensing practices, on Thursday resigned his commission seat.

Finney, a Democrat appointed to the commission in 2017 by former Gov. Eric Greitens, made no mention of his public differences with Chairman Mike Leara in his two-sentence resignation letter to Gov. Mike Parson.

“It has been an honor to serve the people of Missouri as a commissioner,” Finney wrote.

In an interview, Finney said he resigned in frustration over issues related to the investigation conducted by the Graves Garrett law firm that cost the commission almost $400,000. He has accused Leara of withholding important information relating to the probe and blocking his access to the legal file compiled by Graves Garrett.

Neither the full investigative report, delivered to the commission during a closed session in January, nor any summary information has been made public. The commission has denied requests from The Independent and other media for access to the report, citing attorney-client privilege, personnel information and other grounds.

He didn’t address those issues in the letter, Finney said, because they have been aired publicly and if Parson wished to get involved, he could.

“I don’t think that would have been useful,” Finney said. “I just wanted to take the high road there.”

In the past two weeks, Finney has accused Leara of inventing allegations about the way civilian staff handles reports from Missouri State Highway Patrol Gaming Division investigators, saying Leara must have “an imaginary friend” and later, during a commission meeting, challenging whoever made the charges to step forward. 

“As far as I am concerned anyone who doesn’t come forward and tell me, they’re a coward,” Finney said.

There was “no good faith reason” for Leara to withhold information, Finney said. “It made it impossible to do the job.”

The next commission meeting is scheduled for March 31.

Finney was already serving for an uncertain period. When he was appointed, it was for a term that expired in late April 2019. He has not been reappointed, but because Parson has not named a replacement, he continued to be a commission member.

There are two other commissioners serving in expired terms: attorney Brandon Boulware of Kansas City and former state Rep. Pat Conway. Their terms ended in late April 2020.

Leara is coming to the end of his term, which expires at the end of April. The term of the fifth member of the commission, David Hane, expires in April 2022.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.