The Neosho City Council agreed by consensus Tuesday evening to look at putting the addition of the council's ethics code to the city charter to a vote of the people.

Neosho Mayor Richard Davidson proposed that ethics language being added to the city charter be put to a vote of Neosho residents, following discussions in the council's Sept. 3 meeting.

With no objection from council, City Attorney Steve Hays was directed to look into other cities' ethics requirements and to consult with the Missouri Municipal League about the matter.

"What good are prohibitions if a council can simply vote their own rules and change them anytime they wish?" Davidson said. "The elected officials need to be accountable to someone, in this case the voters, who will have the chance to enact that list of prohibitions and add it to the charter."

Davidson's request came after a council discussion two weeks prior, in which Councilman David Ruth had proposed eliminating the city's ethics code, and said it 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 the earlier meeting, councilmen Steve Hart and Ruth had asked for an open discussion regarding the city's legal battle with the TDD, which is usually handled in closed session.

Other council members had been hesitant to discuss some aspects of the legal fight, because the discussions had taken place in closed session and had not yet been released.

Ruth said on Tuesday that it was never his intention to say that the city should have an unethical council or that they should do away with the ethics commission or behave unethically. He said he believes ethics are already covered under other codes and statutes.

"My main concern was, with what we have now, you could have an unethical council, appoint an unethical ethics board, and I'm not just saying they're all unethical, but they could do some unethical things and you could have one ethical council member, or two, and try to bring that to the light, well they're guilty of the ethics code the way we have it set up if they try to be the whistle-blower," Ruth said.

The council voted in that Sept. 3 meeting not to do away with the code of ethics, which also establishes the ethics board.
Council members and members of the public who spoke as visitors during the Sept. 3 meeting, suggested putting the ethics code to a vote of the people, to be added to the city charter.

Davidson said if the council chooses to do so, they would have until January to get the item on the April ballot.
Council members Tom Workman and Charles Collinsworth said they would have no problem with ethics being added to the city's charter.

"I have no problem with strengthening or spelling it out more clearly," Collinsworth said.

Ruth said he worried that adding the ethics language to the charter could result in unintended consequences down the road that the council may not currently be aware of.

Hart said he has no problem with strengthening the city's ethics code, though he would prefer it be left alone as opposed to adding it to the charter.

"I'd as soon see it left alone because I think you may open a Pandora's box to, you say you want to strengthen it, I have no problem to strengthen it, but once you start, where do you stop?" Hart said.

Ruth asked that if the council is going to look at putting adding ethics to the charter to a vote of the people, that the city's property tax rate also go before Neosho voters.

Ruth, who served on the council in the 1990s, is a vocal opponent of the city's property tax because of a decision Neosho voters made in 1997 while he was on council.

At that time voters approved a 3/8-cent drainage tax, which Ruth said was in exchange for the promise that the property tax would be taken to zero.

The property tax remained at zero until 2010, when council voted 4-1 to bring it back.

Hays said the city cannot add anything to the charter that conflicts with state statute.

He was asked by Ruth to look into putting the property tax on the ballot as well. No council members objected to that request.

In other business, council members voted on final reading to adopt a $16.3 million budget for fiscal year 2014.
Ruth and Hart opposed the budget, and noted in the previous council meeting that their opposition to the budget is due to the property tax and the money being spent from reserves.

The budget reflects $15.3 million in overall revenue and $10.6 million in expenditures from the general government funds, which covers police, fire, streets, parks, and city administration, among other departments.

The general government funds are expected to take in $9.8 in revenue, with $3.4 million in other sources and $3.5 million in other uses.

The budget also includes $4.9 million in expenditures for the water/wastewater fund, which is separate from the general government fund.

The water/wastewater account is expected to take in $4.5 million in revenues, with $382,285 coming from other sources, and $302,790 for other uses, while the employee insurance fund has $806,000 in expenditures, with $853,652 in expected contributions.

"The city's overall financial position continued to improve over the last year and is projected to continue to improve over the next fiscal year," City Manager Troy Royer wrote in his budget statement. "We will far exceed a 90-day reserve in the city's general fund."

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See more on Tuesday evening's council meeting in Thursday's Neosho Daily News.