The city of Neosho Ethics Board will subpoena several persons to begin their fact-finding mission regarding official complaints of unethical behavior lodged against two city council members.
The board of Dr. Andrew Hamby, Lee Duran and Tim Lewis met for the first time Wednesday evening, and elected Lewis as their chairman.
Charged with investigating the complaints filed by Derek A. Snyder over several actions allegedly conducted by councilmen David Ruth and Steve Hart, Lewis stated that it would be hard to proceed with none of the persons named in the complaint present at city hall.
“We need facts,” said Lewis; “We need to talk to those people to get the facts.”
Steven Hays, Neosho city attorney, said this is only the second meeting of the Ethics Board, and informed the new board that after selecting a chair, their next order of business would be to establish rules on how to proceed for investigating the complaints.
Hays said, “Those individuals that are named, Mr. Snyder, Mr. Hart, Mr. Ruth, Mr. Royer (city manager Troy), et cetera, those are persons who this board does have subpoena power to bring before the board and ask questions of.”
When questioned about the board’s authority concerning untruthful testimony it might receive, Hays admitted there is no criminal violation for perjury in this situation. He said the board is charged with weighing the testimony of each individual; and if someone should refuse to testify, the board should give proper weight to that.
Hays advised the board that after receiving initial testimony, they will then determine whether they will proceed to a full hearing.
“This does not have to go to a full hearing, that is a decision you will make as to whether or not it needs to go to a full hearing,” he said. “Certainly you’re going to need some more information before a decision like this is made.”
Under Lewis’ recommendation, the board went through the list of charges one by one.
Lewis said he wanted to hear them all.
“Somebody took the time to author this document, a concerned citizen. This person brought them before us. They thought it mattered,” he said.
Dr. Hamby said he found charges in the complaints that were applicable under the city charter, but weren’t listed under the proper section. Hays said if the board feels that a certain aspect of the complaint applies under a different section of the code that will be noted and would become part of the board’s opinion that ultimately would go to the city council.
In establishing a plan of action, Lewis stated that the board needs to talk to everyone named in the document, and they need to hear from both Hart and Ruth.
He said, “Until we hear facts it’s hearsay. I’m not saying any of this is true or not true or anything like that.”
In the investigative process, Hays advised the board he doubted that attorneys for both councilmen Hart and Ruth would want their clients to speak, and that they should pick out the people to start with and they would be subpoenaed to speak before the board.
“After that portion of the investigation,” Hays said, “new people may be revealed, and you could request those people come in.”
On further questioning from Lewis about including Ruth and Hart, Hays reiterated that he would not expect them to attend initial sessions.
Lewis responded, “I understand we’re going to see one side of this, but I want to see both sides; they need to have an opportunity to come before us and explain.”
In going through the complaints to determine who needed to be subpoenaed to testify, the board named Snyder, whom Hays reported is no longer a resident of the city, though he was at the time of each of the allegations. Troy Royer, city manger, was listed in several of the complaints, and was also named.
The list includes Neosho Golf Course employee Gary Elam; as Ruth is alleged to have ordered him to do a job in disregard to city procedures and a directive from the city manager. Rick Hendricks, Empire District Electric Company, will also be ordered to appear regarding a coercion allegation against Hart over a streetlight. A charge of coercion against Ruth and an attempt to portray his opinion as representing that of the council includes an allegation that Ruth improperly polled the other council members, led the board to determine that all council members should appear before them; so Ruth, Hart, councilmen Tom Workman and Charles Collinsworth, and Mayor Richard Davidson will also be subpoenaed.
The complaint also alleges a physical assault by Hart on the city manager in the view of other city employees; so the board hopes testimony will reveal their identities so they can be questioned.
The board also ordered a letter received from attorneys representing the city over the Transportation Development District lawsuit as evidence that both Hart and Ruth attempted to acquire confidential information, as well as minutes from appropriate council meetings when both councilmen are alleged to have divulged confidential information in an open session.
The Neosho Ethics Board will meet next week at 6:30 p.m. Monday to begin hearing testimony. Nora Houdyshell, city clerk, said city council chambers will not be available at that time, but another venue will be found for that session.
Lewis stated after the meeting that the board is charged with making sure they have the facts. He said the individuals named will be summons to appear, “And we’re going to bring them before us, ask them questions, where we can hopefully figure all this out then we can all make an informed decision on whether we believe these are true or not true statements.”
If the board were to substantiate the charges, Hays said they would then make a recommendation to the city council for any disciplinary action they feel is warranted, up to dismissal from the council. He said council is not bound by the board’s recommendation, and can make its own determination as to any penalties imposed on a fellow council members whom they determine is guilty of the allegations.
Neosho citizens overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the city charter this past Tuesday, which places the Ethics Code within the charter. Hays will discuss that amendment, and the entire process for prosecuting allegations of unethical behavior by an elected official of the city in Friday’s edition of the Neosho Daily News.