By Tribune Staff
Councilmember Diane Forte is in violation of Missouri Ethics Law RSMo. Chapter 105 and Lee’s Summit City Charter Article XIV Section 14.1.
Missouri Statues chapter 105 covers conflict of interest and financial disclosure. Forte, along with her business Diane Forte Enterprises which she owns with her husband, stand in violation of Section 105.454, 105.458, and 105.462 and Lee’s Summit City Charter Article XIV Section 14.1. Questions remain whether she violated 105.452.
In short, elected officials may do business with their elected district or state, but may not do so unless the business was awarded or put out to competitive bid and the official was the lowest bidder (if the cost is more than $500 per transaction or $5,000 annually. Additionally, the elected official may not vote on any measures which would give preferential treatment to that business or monetary benefit to themselves, spouse, or dependent child(ren).
Any interest in a bill must be disclosed before voting.
According to the Lee’s Summit City Charter Article XIV, Section 14.1 (Personal Financial Interest), “Any elected or appointed officer, employee, or member of any committee, authority, board or commission of the city who has any direct or indirect substantial financial interest (as defined by the conflict of interest statutes of Missouri) (a) in any party transacting business with the city, or (b) in the subject matter of any city transaction, shall make known that interest and shall refrain from voting upon or otherwise participating in his or her capacity as a city officer, employee or member in such transaction. Any city officer, employee or member who willfully conceals such a substantial financial interest or willfully violates the requirements of this section shall be guilty of malfeasance in office or position and shall forfeit the office or position.”
Councilmember Forte filed for municipal election on December 17, 2013 and was sworn into office April 23, 2014. On January 6, 2014 Diane Forte Enterprises, LLC was formed. The company did not become active until it began having business with the city, specifically Parks and Rec, in 2015.
Forte was elected as Mayor Pro Tem in a tie breaking vote by Mayor Rhoads on May 7, 2015. One duty of the Mayor Pro Tem is to assign the councilmembers to the various committees and as liaisons to the boards. Forte placed herself on the Community and Economic Development Committee, made herself the Chair of Finance and Budget, Vice Chair for Market Center of Ideas (Ad Hoc), LS 360’s Local Government Liaison, and the liaison for Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation.
In the documents sunshine lawed by the Tribune, two instances have been found where this statue has been violated. May 4, 2015 has an invoice for $768.00 and May 9, 2016 has an invoice for $1,170.00. Both are for Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation. However, five dates are listed in the Financial Disclosure Statement for the year of 2015: January 27, May 4, July 10, July 17, and September 21.
Those dates do not match the invoices for under $500. During discovery, the Tribune noticed the invoice for the LSP&R 2016 Volunteer Awards was not included. This invoice for May 9, 2016 in the amount of $1,170.00 included an email statement from Carole Culbertson, Superintendent of Administration of LSP&R on on June 7, 2016
“There is no award of bid for awards/plaques/engraving as you have requested. This year, the staff did not anticipate the awards being at or above the $1,000 threshold requiring the project to obtain three quotes. This was based on the fact that the previous year, 32 awards were purchased for a total of $768. This year, an additional 13 awards were presented. When the invoice was received, the total cost for the awards was $1,170 which is slightly over the threshold that was originally anticipated.”
A Financial Disclosure Statement must be filed when any business entity in which the official, his or her spouse, or his or her dependent child(ren) hold a substantial interest, that conducted business with his or her represented political subdivision listed valued at more than $500.
The Tribune is in the process of recovering the remaining documents and clarification with conflicting dates.
Early in 2015, she made her position as Parks liaison clear during council meetings while she was voting in favor of the continuation of the 1/4 of 1% sales tax renewal.
At the January 14, 2015 regular session she was against Councilmember Mosby’s proposal to add 1/8 of 1% to the tax for stormwater stating, “Your amendment that you’re proposing is not necessary–is changing the ballot. It would not be continuing.” The council voted to table the motion and bring it back to council the next week with stormwater added with Forte and Binney opposed.
During the public comments at the January 21 regular session, John Ellis, who was a part of the Parks and Rec task force, voiced his confusion as why the tax proposal was being pushed through so quickly. “I did not know it was going to vote last week. I don’t know why we’re rushing it. Can that conversation be made in a week? I don’t think so. I think there’s a ton more conversation that needs to happen.” He suggested putting it on the November ballot.
Councilmember Holland echoed Ellis and said that he was concerned by the vagueness of the Park’s plan. Forte wanted to know what Holland wanted from the board that he did not get the week before.
Forte went on to state that she knew because she was the liaison and “there’s got to be some trust in what we’ve done. I mean to say this, it’s too soon and it’s not specific…” The 38 projects were put on the overhead and included items such as “multipurpose building,” “ice rink,” and “restrooms.”
“I don’t know why we’re sitting here in January talking about this issue,” Holland said. “I think there’s plenty of time to take a closer look at it.” The motion to table the sales tax plan until an undecided date passed four to three with Carlyle, Johnson, and Forte voting against.
Councilmember Gray asked during the Council roundtable about how communication would be done between the Parks and Recreation board and the Council.
“That will be my decision,” Forte said. “It will come from me as Park Board Liaison.”
The council of 2016, with new and senior members, did little to ease the tension. Diane Forte Enterprises continued doing business with the city as evident by the invoices the Tribune has received so far.
When it came time for current Mayor Pro Tem Rob Binney to appoint this year’s committee members and liaisons, newly-elected councilmember Chris Moreno responded to documents that were shared with the entirety of the City Council concerning Forte’s business history with Parks and Rec from the City Attorney. These emails were in response to the open document requests made by the press recently and were marked “attorney-client privilege.” Due to this, he sent an email to Mayor Pro Tem Binney, Mayor Rhoads, the City Council, and the City Clerk formally requesting that she be removed from her liaison position with Parks and Rec. (The letter can be found on Page 4 of this issue.)
Having not heard anything by the start of the June 23 Special Session, Moreno made a movement to amend the listing. The exact reason for the removal was not discussed despite Forte’s initial request for clarification. Moreno asked City Attorney Brian Head how they would go about waiving the Attorney-Client Privilege of those emails in order to offer the clarification.
Forte interrupted the exchange stating that she was very sad and that they should go ahead and vote. Let’s just vote. I’m fine, I don’t need anybody to say anything. Let’s just vote.”
The motion passed five to three with Forte, Carlyle, and Binney voted against.