The Neosho City Council, on Tuesday, voted down a councilman's proposal to repeal the ordinance that sets a code of ethics for the city council and establishes an ethics board.
Council voted 2-3, with council members David Ruth, who proposed the action, and Steve Hart, voting in favor of the repeal.
Ruth said his proposal was an attempt to be more transparent to Neosho citizens, and that it had stemmed from a previous council discussion regarding the Neosho Transportation Development District.
In an Aug. 20 council meeting, Hart initiated a discussion regarding the city's appeal in their legal challenge of the TDD, a topic usually discussed in closed session under legal issues.
The discussion took place in open session, though some council members did note that aspects of the former TDD discussions could not be brought into that night's debate because that information could not yet be disclosed from the closed sessions.
"I don't want to be a councilman that is not transparent, that conducts business behind closed doors," Ruth said Tuesday evening. "I want to be transparent, open and honest and conduct as little business as necessary behind closed doors. That's my position, that was why I brought this up. I think we should be able to speak freely in a discussion or debate and we shouldn't tie the hands of another councilman and say, 'you can't talk about that.'"
Ruth said he also proposed repealing the ethics ordinance because he believed it was only put into place to address a former councilwoman discussing issues handled in closed session, and said that ethics are addressed under state statutes.
"The past council cannot hold this council to their rules and regulations unless this council agrees to it," Ruth said. Hart, who also voted to repeal the ordinance, said he would like to see much more of the city's business handled in open session.
"Let's let the people hold us accountable by having more openness, more transparency," Hart said. "Let the people hold us accountable right here, right now, not in the back room."
Neosho Mayor Richard Davidson said there are some items that cannot be discussed in open session, such as legal strategies and real estate deals, and pointed to Missouri's Sunshine Law, which dictates what a public board can discuss in closed session and how long that information can be concealed.
Davidson said the ethics ordinance also addresses more than what is handled in closed sessions.
Davidson, along with councilman Tom Workman, voiced his support for allowing the Neosho voters to decide if the council should be held to a code of ethics.
"I think ethics is a long-term goal, not a short-term goal that can be minimized or changed at the whim of three people," Davidson said.
Page 2 of 4 - Workman said he too would like to see more business handled in open session, though he understands that some items must remain in closed, and that he would like to see the ethics board and ordinance remain in place.
"As far as an ethics board, that's something that could be put to a vote of the people," Workman said. "…I think we should definitely be held accountable and like I said, I would just rather see less closed sessions and let's do a lot of our business that we can possibly do in public forums."
Collinsworth said he too would like to be transparent, but also realizes there are situations where council members can't "show your cards," such as in ongoing litigation.
"It's not an idea of not being transparent, but should we be transparent as much as we possibly can? Absolutely," Collinsworth said. "Can we be completely transparent at the moment because of strategies, because of things that have serious ramifications? I don't think we can."
Collinsworth said he looks forward to the day the council's closed session discussions regarding the TDD can be made public.
He said he is also in favor of continuing the ethics ordinance and board because he believes something should be in place holding council accountable.
"I welcome accountability," Collinsworth said, noting he would be open to following the same requirements city employees do, including taking drug tests. "The idea of lessening restrictions on a public servant – I think there ought to be more."
Council members also heard from two members of the public, who both voiced their opposition to repealing the ethics ordinance.
Cheryl Mosby, former longtime Neosho finance director, and David Holley, a member of the city's ethics board, expressed support for including the ethics ordinance in the city charter.
"It should stay, but maybe it should be taken a step farther for the public to say if they want it there or not," Mosby said.
Holley noted that he is expected to follow a code of ethics in his professional life and said he expects the same of his elected representatives.
Holley also said that the ethics committee can benefit council members in some instances, and noted that the one time the committee has met — for a complaint against Davidson in 2012 — they ruled in favor of Davidson.
"We documented exactly what we found and it protected the council member at that point that what was being said was not true," Holley said. "Now that could happen to any of you any day, so as much as some people think that the committee is there to cause a problem for somebody, it just as much can be a protection for you."
Workman asked how soon the question of if voters want to include the ethics ordinance in the city charter could be placed on a ballot.
Page 3 of 4 - City Attorney Steve Hays said he believed the item could be placed on the April ballot if council opted to do so.
Council voted in July 2010 to adopt the ethics ordinance.
In other business:
• Council approved a bid of $9,119 from Swartz Tractor Sales and Supplies for a zero turn radius mower for public works.
• Council voted, on first reading, to approve a transfer of $45,865 from the drainage fund to the parks fund to cover costs associated with the restoration of the Big Spring Park staircase.
• Council members approved a request submitted by Greg and Pam Gibson, owners of the property at 505 E. Spring Street, where Rainbow Park is located, to abandon the city's right-of-way that runs through that property.
• Council approved an agreement with the Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration regarding funding for another step in the airport lighting project. With the Runway End Identifier Lights system and the Precision Approach Path Indicator System installed at the airport, the FAA requires that calibration of these systems take place. Dana Daniel, the city's director of development services, said the FAA had previously provided that for free, however, they no longer do. The cost to the city is $15,855.48, with MoDOT reimbursing Neosho for 90 percent of that cost. Council approved the agreement, however, their vote on the budget amendment covering the additional cost was approved under first reading.
• Council approved, on first reading, adjusting the budget to reflect the actual revenues, expenditures and transfers between funds from Celebrate Neosho. Expenditures for the event came in $6,745 over budget, however, revenues from the event were also more than expected, at $6,968.
• Council approved two change orders regarding the water system improvement project. The first, a $37,141.59 addition to the contract covers the quantity changes, including the costs of pavement repair, regarding the downtown water mains. The second, a total $94,406.37 covers an additional exhaust duct and HVAC unit to address the high service pump station control room overheating, as part of the improvements at the water plant. After the two change orders, there is $158,002 left in contingency.
• Council voted to issue a letter of support regarding a walking/driving trail that the Carver Birthplace Association is seeking funding to establish. This move requires no monetary contribution from the city.
• Council members voted to renew an agreement with the Joplin Humane Society, for animals found in Neosho City limits. Animals are currently taken to the Carthage Humane Society, with the Joplin organization serving as backup for the city if Carthage is unavailable.
• Council members approved an agreement with Precision Heating, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration, who council previously selected as the city's primary contractor for HVAC services. Council also approved an agreement with S&S Maintenance, who the city already selected as their secondary contractor for HVAC services.
Page 4 of 4 - • Council approved an agreement with Zimmer Radio Group for $500, for advertising of the city's upcoming Fall Festival, set for Oct. 5.
• Council announced vacancies that exist on the airport industrial board; the board of adjustments (zoning); the economic development sales tax committee; the enhanced enterprise board; the parks, recreation and golf course board; the planning and zoning commission; and the TIF commission. Letters of interest will be considered at the Sept. 17 council meeting. If interested in serving on one of these boards, contact city clerk Nora Houdyshell at 451-8050.