For the first time in 14 years, Ray Weter will start a new year without holding public office.
Christian County elected officials held a retirement reception for the outgoing Christian County presiding commissioner Dec.18, at the Christian County Historic Courthouse. Weter, 73, became a county commissioner in 2012.
“I landed in this by accident when there was an opening in the Eastern commissioner spot, and the governor at that time, Gov. Nixon, appointed me,” Weter said.
The Sparta native served in the Missouri House of Representatives from 2004 to 2012. He had planned to run for Eastern District commissioner in Christian County, but ended up being appointed by Nixon. The Democrat crossed party lines to appoint Weter, a Republican, who joined the Christian County Commission officially on Aug. 27, 2012.
In January 2014, then-Presiding Commissioner Lou Lapaglia announced his decision not to seek reelection.
“It was a situation where we needed to have somebody in that middle seat that had some experience,” Weter said.
Weter became the go-to man, won the 2014 election and went on to serve as presiding commissioner for four years.
“I wanted to make a difference. Some of the differences that needed to be made, the issues that had to be addressed over my four years here weren’t necessarily operational in some respects of the word,” Weter said. “The fabric of the management of the county needed to be changed a little bit, and I was able to get that done.”
Before he held public office, Weter worked in hospitals as a cardiovascular perfusionist. During open heart surgery, the operating surgeon needs to work on a still heart. Thus, a perfusionist in the operating room uses techniques and equipment to temporarily replace the function of a patient’s heart and lungs.
In his six years of county government, Weter oversaw its heart, the Christian County Historic Courthouse and Justice Center. Like a perfusionist in the operating room, Weter helped keep county government functional while some of the heart’s chambers were moved and rearranged.
The juvenile office, the county clerk, treasurer and public administrator all moved within the historic courthouse while a courtroom on the second floor was retrofit for cases and trials to take place.
“It was musical chairs,” Weter said, “and I had to think through that and convince people that this will work.”
He has presided over the planning and construction of the Christian County Justice Center Annex, a new court building on West Walnut Street in Ozark situated south of the Christian County Justice Center. The building will house two courtrooms. It’s other key component is office space for the county prosecuting attorney and support staff.
“The prosecutor sorely needed more room,” Weter said.
The construction project has had its setbacks, which include construction change orders and most recently, questions over how the sheriff’s office can afford to staff enough deputies to secure the additional courtroom buildings.
“There is going to be building down there that doesn’t come without controversy of the need, the cost and the staffing, et cetera. People think that I wasn’t aware of that; I’m aware of that, but I’m also aware that you don’t know what you can do until you try. I am confident that all of that down there is going to work out,” Weter said.
Unsung hero of the circuit split
State Rep. Lynn Morris, R-Nixa, honored Weter at his retirement reception by reading an official resolution from the Missouri House of Representatives. Morris succeeded Weter in representing eastern Christian County in the Missouri House.
Morris doesn’t think Weter is done with serving Christian County.
“I know you’ll be doing other great things in our community,” Morris told Weter. “That’s what good people do.”
In February 2016, an act of the state government divided the circuit court of Taney and Christian counties into two circuits. The move to get Christian County its own circuit court took the efforts of State Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa, State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, then-State Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, Morris, Circuit Judge Laura Johnson and Weter.
Morris recounted the story of speeding a bill through the House and Senate in 2016. The bill to split the circuit was the first to make it out of both chambers in the 2016 legislative session.
“If we didn’t get it passed before the next election, we were going to have to wait again,” Morris said. “Because of the stature and the relationship that Ray had with Gov. Nixon, and I had, the governor didn’t have to do this but he actually signed the bill before the deadline. We made it—I don’t know, somewhere between 24 and 48 hours.”
The local lawmakers got the governor’s signature just in time to separate Christian County and Taney County’s judicial circuits without having to wait for another election cycle.
“(Nixon) respected Ray Weter, and so he did us a favor,” Morris said.
Though he has joked openly about hiring out his services as a furniture mover when Christian County Prosecuting Attorney Amy Fite and her staff will relocate to the justice center annex in 2019, Weter said he is looking forward to the next chapter in his life. He and his wife, Sheri, live in Fremont Hills. Their three children, Andy, Erin and Nathan are all adults.
Ralph Phillips will become Christian County’s next presiding commissioner at a swearing in ceremony on Dec. 21 at the Christian County Historic Courthouse. Phillips currently serves as Christian County’s Eastern District commissioner.