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Neosho Daily News - Neosho, MO
  • Neosho council members Hart and Ruth sue city

  • Claiming they have not been provided documents to which they are entitled, two Neosho city councilmen have filed suit against the city and four city officials.
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  • Claiming they have not been provided documents to which they are entitled, two Neosho city councilmen have filed suit against the city and four city officials.
    The third suit recently filed against the city and/or city officials by Joplin attorney Bruce Copeland.
    Copeland previously filed suit on behalf of himself in an attempt to secure various records, and another on behalf of councilman Steve Hart regarding a secretly recorded conversation of Hart that had been released to the public.
    The latest suit, filed on Friday in the Newton County 40th Circuit Court by Hart and councilman David Ruth, names city attorney Steven Hays, mayor Richard Davidson, city clerk Nora Houdyshell, city manager Troy Royer, and the city of Neosho, as defendants.
    Copeland said the first of three counts in the lawsuit is the demand for the legal file on the TDD (Transportation Development District) litigation matters.
    “For the reason that all of the councilmen are clients of the law firm and the city attorney; and they are legally entitled to the documents,” he said. “The second count is that failure for a lawyer to turn over documents to a client upon request is a violation of a Missouri Supreme Court rule governing the conduct of lawyers. It’s the lawyers’ ethics rules that the Supreme Court has.”
    Copeland then told about the third count.
    “The third count is that one of these council members made a Sunshine request for these records,” he said. “The responses have been — I think verbatim, ‘I (Houdyshell) will not give you the records in 72 hours, but I will take the information to the city council on Aug. 5 and seek their direction.’ And she didn’t take the records to the city council. She still hasn’t given David Ruth anything.”
    Copeland claimed duplicity, as the council voted at the mayor’s request to open all TDD records, the mayor then emailed the city attorney to receive assurance that included  attorney-client communications. He said the mayor then sent copies to a newspaper, to Derek Snyder (former Neosho resident who filed ethics complaint), who then included that information in an ethics complaint filed earlier this year against Hart and Ruth.
    “So the duplicity I’m talking about, these TDD legal documents, this document was clearly denoted as an attorney-client communication,” said Copeland. “And privileged in big, bold black letters — when some members of the city council want to use those documents for their political purposes, they can get them no problem.”
    Copeland noted that the documents are all open to anyone who wishes to view them.
    “But somebody at city hall doesn’t want us to see — and doesn’t want Hart and Ruth to see — some of these TDD litigation documents,” he said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Copeland said one of the main themes of the lawsuit is to bring to the attention of the court and the public the direct disobedience by the defendants to the March 19, 2013, direction of the city council to cease spending money on the TDD with the St. Louis law firm Cunningham, Vogel & Rost.
    “They did exactly the opposite of what the city council directed them to do,” he said. “And that’s what led to the letter written to the St. Louis law firm by Hart and Ruth, saying, ‘We’ve been cut out of this information. We want this information because this is not what we voted.’”
    He maintained there is an improper bottleneck of information, in particular, TDD litigation opinions and documents, and a significant secrecy.
    “What it does, it prevents the city council members that aren’t inside that circle of secrecy from getting the information they need to make informed decisions on behalf of the citizens of Neosho,” Copeland said.
    He mentioned the final theme is drawing attention to the wasted money in continuing the legal work on the appeal of the TDD.
    Copeland said the suit seeks to have all of the documents turned over in their entirety.
    “The second count seeks essentially the same remedy,” he said. “But based on a different legal theory. And the third count seeks the Sunshine open records production of documents. To which there have been no objection, no claim of confidentiality or closed record made whatsoever and the appropriate financial penalties for failing to give it in the first place.”
    Hays responded Monday that the city had not yet been served on this third recent lawsuit and added that it is standing policy to not comment on pending litigation.
    Houdyshell also stated Monday that she had not been served. Houdyshell said she would reserve comment until after conferring with legal counsel.
    Davidson said he can not respond to the complaint, as he has yet to see it. He did say that the city clerk is working on the latest Sunshine requests by Ruth as she has the time and resources to do so as required by the Sunshine Law.
    “If they decide to file another lawsuit, they are entitled to do so,” Davidson said.
    Royer was unavailable for comment.

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