A legal dispute between a Joplin businessman and his former landlord brings to light a failed city policy. The case has brought a change to the way Joplin lends money to business owners.
Joplin City Manager Sam Anselm says there wasn't enough oversight of the city's loan program for businesses. City documents show business Jeff Hicks received a $160,000 loan from the city to pay for equipment at Kodiak Sports." Anselm says the agreement between Hicks and the city, inked in 2010, said Hicks would always insure the equipment that was bought with the loan.
Anselm says that agreement would've stayed an agreement, if the truth had not surfaced. The building that Hicks rented for his business burned down in 2011.
"After we had pursued the money back for the equipment, is when we discovered that the insurance policy wasn't in place," says Anselm.
The incident brought to light a loophole: The city required businesses with loaned city money to have insurance, but enforcement of that requirement wasn't defined.
"How we would check that in the past, I would assume... You know, annually, we go out and get business licenses from businesses that have to renew that. As part of that, I would assume, some sort of check in place to ensure that the policy was still active," says Anselm.
Anselm says since he became assistant city manager in 2014, loan agreements between the city and a business require that the city be included in the business's insurance policy, making the agreement more official than it was before.
Ever since that 2011 fire, though, city officials have been trying to get back money city officials say Hicks still owes. Court records show Hicks is in a legal dispute with his former landlord.
Hicks has received more money from an organization called "Joplin Tomorrow," which solicits money for economic growth. Joplin's Chamber of Commerce says Hicks has used that money to help start-up a new business called "JT Naturals."
"As an individual, I would certainly want to make good on the payments before I started something else. But that's just me," says Anselm.
Both Jeff Hicks and his former landlord, Lesley Business Centers, would not comment on this story, citing ongoing legal action. Officials with Joplin's Chamber of Commerce say the "Joplin Tomorrow" organization is separate from the Chamber. An official with "Joplin Tomorrow" has not returned our phone call.
KOAM - Licensed to Pittsburg, Kansas