JEFFERSON CITY | A state official forced from his job last fall for his role in the E. coli controversy at the Lake of the Ozarks is back on the state payroll.
Joe Bindbeutel has been working as an assistant attorney general since late January, according to the Attorney General’s Office and the Missouri Accountability Portal Web site.
A longtime aide to Jay Nixon when he was attorney general, Bindbeutel was named a deputy director at the Department of Natural Resources when Nixon became governor last year. Bindbeutel then was appointed to the Administrative Hearing Commission.
But Nixon, a Democrat, rescinded that appointment in October, after Bindbeutel took the blame for withholding reports showing high levels of E. coli bacteria at the Lake of the Ozarks.
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“We’re very happy to have him here,” said Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster, also a Democrat. “He’s an experienced attorney with a long history of working in the attorney general’s office and serving the state of Missouri.”
Gonder said Bindbeutel has been assigned to the consumer protection division and is earning a $56,650 annual salary. That’s about half what he earned as a DNR director and administrative hearing commissioner, and almost $40,000 less than his previous salary in the attorney general’s office.
A call seeking comment from Bindbeutel was not returned.
State Sen. Brad Lager, a Savannah Republican who has led an investigation of the E. coli scandal, said Koster informed him in advance of the hire and said Bindbeutel would only work through the fiscal year, which ends in June.
Gonder could not confirm Friday whether Bindbeutel would continue to work beyond that date.
Lager, who has sharply criticized DNR and called for the resignation of Department Director Mark Templeton, said Friday he appreciated Bindbeutel’s integrity in the E. coli investigation and saw no problem with his work in the attorney general’s office.
“While everyone else was looking for someone to blame, Joe Bindbeitel was the only guy who said, ‘I made a mistake,’” Lager said. “I found it refreshing that someone was willing to take the consequences of their actions.”
Bindbeutel is very near qualifying for retirement. State workers become eligible for retirement benefits according to a formula, but generally can begin collecting when their combined age and years of state service reach 80, said Chris Rackers, manager of investment policy and communication for the Missouri State Employees Retirement System.
Bindbeutel’s age and years of service appear be in the high 70s. He is 56 years old and initially joined the attorney general’s office in the late 1980s. He first shows up as an employee in the state’s 1987-88 Official Manual, putting him at around 23 years of service when he left last fall.
Nixon’s office declined to comment on the hiring.
“We don’t ordinarily comment on hiring by other state officials,” spokesman Scott Holste said in a statement. “We wish Joe the best in his continued career of public service.”