The outcome of the case against Fourth Ward Columbia city councilman Ian Thomas came to a proper conclusion when he received minimal punishment for admittedly violating a state law against committing a prohibited act by an elected public official.

Special Prosecutor Locke Thompson, called in from Cole County, had earlier charged Thomas with a misdemeanor for allegedly offering to trade his council vote in favor of approving a subdivision plan for a donation from the developer to a charity. The law is in the books for good reason, but the facts surrounding the Thomas case mitigated any case for harsh punishment, as recognized by Prosecutor Thompson as he dropped the charges in exchange for 75 hours to be completed by Councilman Thomas in the next six months. Given the nearly constant community service routinely performed by Thomas, it will be hard to find only 75 qualifying hours to assign as compliance.

The case was strange for several reasons. Thomas’ actions were open and above board. He was urging low-income housing to be included in a subdivision called Oakland Crossing, but developers said the city planning and zoning commission already had approved their plans and agreed to make a $40,000 donation instead to the Columbia Community Land Trust. Thomas agreed to support the tradeoff, but when he learned he would violate state law by doing so he notified the Missouri Ethics Commission and later informed constituents he had made an “error in judgement” motivated entirely by a desire for more affordable housing in the community.

When time came to levy final judgement, Prosecutor Thompson and I daresay almost everyone else was ready to believe Councilman Thomas and let him off easily.

From this case we learned anew a person’s well-earned reputation will stand in good stead when circumstances later warrant. Because of his unremitting behavior in public life, Ian Thomas deserved full benefit of doubt when time came to take him at his word. He had been a constant public communicator, often in favor of low-cost housing. He had no discernible record of self-serving in office, and among all hands at city hall, his openness is commendable.

Citizens got a look at a state statute that certainly deserves to be on the books and carefully enforced. Thomas’ prompt and open acknowledgment of the same only serves to strengthen our agreement of this. We got new evidence our criminal justice system is alert and ready to hold our public officials accountable.

All good, fellow minions, all good.

HJW III

hjwatersiii@gmail.com

What’s mentionable is manageable.

Fred Rogers