By Tribune Staff
Wendy Hayworth & Linda Ahern
The related City ordinance has been renewed on an annual basis since 1991.
Six months have passed since the Tribune published “Ethics Law Violations On City Council: Diane Forte's Conflict of Interest”. In that time, Councilwoman Forte and City Manager Steve Arbo have both made claims that they were unaware of State Statute 105.450.
It was this statute (specifically 105.454, 105.458, and 105.462), along with the Lee’s Summit City Charter XIV Section 14.1, and City Ordinance Sec. 2-61 that Forte violated on two occasions. (May 4, 2015 with an invoice for $768 and May 9, 2016 with an invoice for $1,170.) These invoices were from her business, Diane Forte Enterprises, LLC to the Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation department. During this time, she was also participating in council votes pertaining to Parks finances.
During the July 7, 2016 council meeting, Forte stated that she was “made aware” of the violation on the 16. She repeated this again the following week.
When discussing the operational audit at the August 1st meeting, Forte stated that she was not certain an audit would have caught the “glitch of a state statute” because “it was me that didn’t know about the state statute.”
On August 11 and 18 she also claimed to have not known about the statute.
Most recently, City Manager Steve Arbo stated during the January 5, 2017 council meeting that he was not aware of the statute until the previous April.
"The City of Lee's Summit organization was not aware of the $500 limit of the state statute,” Arbo said. “The time that I learned it was with you, sir, Mr. Moreno, when we were at the newly elected officials conference.”
According to Executive Director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, James Klahr, this particular state statute has been in effect, with minor amendments, since 1978.
In 1991, state statute required cities to pass a city ordinance addressing conflict of interest on a biannual basis. The first ordinance was enacted by the Board of Aldermen of the City of Lee’s Summit on August 6, 1991.
Now referred to as Sec. 2-61 of the Code of Ordinances for the City of Lee’s Summit, this ordinance is nearly identical to the first. The only changes there are reflect the changes in personnel in the City.
This ordinance specifically references State Statute 105.450.
In 2013, during the annual renewal process, Councilman Bob Johnson inquired if the ordinance was the same as the previous year.
City Clerk Denise Chisum replied that the state statute requiring the renewal was “unclear” so the City renews the ordinance every year just to be safe.
This was reiterated by the City Manager when the ordinance was renewed on September 1, 2016. "This is a standard ordinance that's required by state statute that we approve at least once every other year. The city of Lee’s Summit has taken it upon ourselves to go ahead and adopt it every year, just to make sure we don't miss it.”
Every year that this ordinance has been before her, Councilwoman Forte has voted in favor of it. In 2015 and 2016, she even seconded the motion to approve it. (This is documented via Action Letters from August 21, 2014; August 20, 2015; and September 1, 2016.)
The Office of the City Attorney confirmed that all new councilmembers are given handbooks on conflict of interest, meeting rules, and the Sunshine Law during an orientation at City Hall.
Additionally, all councilmembers received a three-ring-binder that was put together by an ad-hoc committee. The State Statute was included.
Either Councilwoman Forte and City Manager Arbo did indeed know about the State Statute or they have not been reading the ordinances put before them.
Sec. 2-61. - Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.
A. Declaration of Policy. The proper operation of municipal government requires that public officials and employees be independent, impartial and responsible to the people; that government decisions and policy be made in the proper channels of the governmental structure; that public office not be used for personal gain; and, that the public have confidence in the integrity of its government. In recognition of these goals, there is hereby established a procedure for disclosure by certain officials and employees of private financial or other interests in matters affecting the city.
B. Conflicts of Interest. The mayor or any councilmember who has a substantial personal or private interest, as defined by RSMo 105.450(10), (11), Missouri Revised Statues, in any bill shall disclose on the records of the City Council the nature of his or her interest and shall disqualify himself or herself from voting on any matters relating to this interest.
C. Disclosure Statements. Each elected official, the City Manager, the Assistant City Manager, the City Attorney, the Director of Finance, the City Clerk and the City Purchasing Agent shall disclose the following information by May 1 if any such transactions were engaged in during the previous calendar year: