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City officials in Neosho soon could have more accountability - KOAM TV 7

City officials in Neosho soon could have more accountability

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Some city officials in Neosho say they want to send a clear message:  Around here, rules are meant to be followed.

"General things that a reasonable person on the street would expect any elected official to follow," says Mayor Richard Davidson.

But area business owner Julie Stephens points out criminal charges are already available against those breaking the law.

"So would it be additional prosecution?  I'm unsure if we need additional people dedicating their time to make sure more people are accountable," says Stephens.

In 2010, former city manager Jan Blase was fired and lead guilty in court to a misdemeanor of illegally using earmarked money for a different city purpose.

But this proposal to the city's charter would require all five elected officials to follow ethics.

"If you own a piece of property and you're voting on something that could impact that value of that property, we expect you to step back and say wait a minute, I have property this could impact, and abstain from voting," says Davidson.

Council members would also be expected to not release details of a closed session meeting until Missouri's Sunshine Law requires them to do so, or council members vote for the go ahead.

"Just like speed limits or other laws, if there's no penalties for breaking those laws, there's not going to be a wide acceptance to follow those laws," says Davidson.

The proposed addition to the city's charter calls for possible removal from office if a city official is found guilty of knowingly committing misconduct.

"We had some past problems and accusations of misconduct in the past years, and I think it's a good solution to it.  I think it's a good way to nip it in the bud before it goes any further," says area businessman Randy Collins, owner of Cafe Angelica.

Council members will not decide if the proposal will be sent to voters in April.  Having this proposed change to the charter being decided by voters would require future council members to follow the ethics code, or face penalties.  Future council members couldn't change this code without voter's approval.  

At least three of the five council members must approve the measure before it's sent to voters.  Council members are slated to vote on the issue this Tuesday.  A simple majority would pass the measure, should it be put before voters.

Councilman David Ruth initially opposed the proposal, saying it was setting up a politically-controlled environment at city hall.  Councilman Ruth says he has since decided he'll approve the proposal for voters to later decide.  Councilman Ruth did not want to be interviewed on camera for this story.

The below language for the proposal comes from Mayor Davidson:

SECTION2.12: Ethics

EthicProhibitions:  Council shall enactcode provisions identifying prohibited conduct of its members including, butnot limited to, ImproperUse of Public Property; Conflicts of Interest; Influencing the City's business relationshipswith a business of which a council member has an interest in and/or is soemployed;  Appearing in a proceeding adverse to the City unless undersubpoena; Disclose or useconfidential information gained by reason of the members position on theCouncil; Having afinancial or personal interest in pending legislation and participatingin discussion unless such interest is disclosed on the record; Holds, directlyor indirectly, any interest in real estate situated within the City and participates in discussionregarding the regulation or zoning of such real estate unless suchinterest is disclosed on the record; and Representing individual opinions asthat being the opinion of the Council unless Council affirmatively voted andpassed an ordinance, resolution or motion that states the expressedpolicy.   

EthicsBoard:  Council shall establish bycode an Ethics Board for the purpose of insuring the proper implementation ofthe code of ethics, determining violations of the code and advising the Councilof appropriate penalties thereof.  The board shall operate as a board onlyduring the review of a specific complaint.

Penalty:  Any council member who willfully violates anyprovision of this Section may thereby be admonished, reprimanded and/or forfeithis or her office or position with the City and unless otherwise punishable,may be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be punishableby a fine not more than five hundred dollars ($500.00) or by imprisonment fornot more than thirty (30) days, or both.

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