By Tribune Staff
Thursday’s council meeting ran for just over an hour and a half. Approximately half of that time was taken up by both the Public Comments and Council Comments section of the agenda, all of which circulated around one central topic.
Through documents acquired through the Sunshine Law, the Tribune published an article in the July 2 edition of the printed paper outlining the possible ethics violations committed by her company, Diane Forte Enterprises, LLC. In question are Missouri Statues 105.454, 105.458, 105.462, and the Lee’s Summit City Charter Article XIV Section 14.1.
The short of it is: when an elected official does business with the city, if the cost is over $500 it needs to be put out to bid and can only be awarded to the elected official if they offer the lowest bid. The elected official is also prohibited from voting on any measures that would benefit their business or give them monetary benefit. If an elected official is found to willfully violates these shall forfeit their position.
In the process of obtaining information, many questions have been raised by the taxpayers of Lee’s Summit.
Dr. Jacquelyn Gates was the first to speak at Public Comments. She requested that all the invoices and checks paid by Diane Forte Enterprises under her fictitious name (Dean’s Trophies) with the city be made public, along with the emails that had been sent to the councilmembers and press earlier in the week.
Gates is referencing a collection of about 1500 emails of conversations concerning Dean’s Trophies and Diane Forte Enterprises and their business dealings with the city.
Later, during Council Comments, Councilmember Dave Mosby offered his email and number to anyone who wanted the emails and said he would make sure they would get them. Councilmember Chris Moreno told those present that they are available at City Hall and anyone can access them through an open records request.
Todd Haynes addressed the council by saying that they were wasting community resources. He stated that he had heard that “a couple of council people have an agenda to ask for the resignation of Diane Forte. I can tell you that that’s egregious.”
He went on to explain that he had received an envelope from a member of the community that contacted public information concerning “a couple of council people here that have their own egregious financial concerns that I would ethics violations of their own.”
By making the council a “circus” and a “show,” Lee’s Summit could not possibly attract business and move forward. “It’s a shame. Where’s the leadership?”
Councilmember Mosby was the first to speak during Council Comments. “It’s really troubling that there are issues raised, and we can take course of action,” Mosby said. “We can ignore things or we can question things.”
He read the following email:
The following was sent from Jamey Suddarth of Dean’s Trophies to Shannon Gammon of Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation on May 18, 2015.
“Shannon, for the past 4 or 5 years I have done some end of the year awards for the parks and rec. It seems like someone else got that business this year. I was wondering if someone under bid me? And if so why you wouldn’t give me a chance to match it since I had done it for you for so long?
If that is the case I would like to underbid the vendor that took it from me this year next year.”
Gammon forwarded the email to Carole Culbertson the following day.
“I’m sure this is in reference to the VIP awards that Jamey always did for us but Tom made Pat go through Diane F – How should I respond to this – or should I just forward it to Pat?”
“This is just one email out of the entire thing,” Mosby said. “It raises questions. What’s going on? So, if you want to throw rocks at me, go ahead.”
He went on to read another email sent from Carole Culbertson to Devin Wetzel on September 23, 2015.
“The problem is paying Diane Forte. There is a disclosure requirement if paid by COLS since she is a councilman. If the LFPF pays, then no issue.”
“I’m sorry, but I have to raise a question on that. Something was wrong with that. They knew right then that they were dealing with a council person,” Mosby said.
“I took an oath to ask questions and if I see something I’m going to ask questions. Unfortunately, we don’t have answers to these. So, I’m sorry if you feel that this is inappropriate or if people hide behind their pen and call us clowns. Well, maybe we are, but, for me, I took and oath and I’m proud to be a clown when I see this kind of thing.”
Councilwoman Forte spoke next, stating that the benches (which is what the email was referring to) were ordered through the Foundation.
“I’m going to tell you all right now that every one of you have worked with someone in another company, and that person left that company and you worked with them again because they were the company,” Forte said.
She provided an analogy with a favorite plumber who moved from working at Joe Blow’s Plumber to ABC Plumbing, saying that because of the relationship built, you would go to him at the new company to fix your toilet.
“The saddest thing about this is, I thought there were relationships here and there’s not,” Forte said. “You can yak, yak, yak about relationships, and talking to people, and this is what we need to do- By God Dave, you could have called me.”
Forte went on to explain that the filing of the fictitious name of Dean’s Trophies for Diane Forte Enterprises was done by her lawyer, Patrick Stark.
“[He] decided, guess what Diane Forte Enterprises, your company did not take a name. I’m buying it,” Forte said. “If you ever want to use it, if they ever go away, you have that name.”
“So, all of a sudden, a newspaper reporter here in town is telling, and I’m being told, I’m doing business in a fictitious name under Dean’s Trophies. No, I’m not.”
Forte went on to explain that the name is sad for her as it reminds her of a part of her life that she has moved on from and put away.
She apologized again for her actions with Parks, acknowledging that it “may look bad” but that neither end meant it. “I did two orders with the Parks department. I put it on my ethics commission,” Forte said.
“I’ve sat here I’ve heard all week that this guy down here is going ask for my resignation,” Forte said, gesturing down the dias. “To come on this council, walk in, and bring these people with you, and try to destroy relationships that I have built in this city, and take my name, if anybody is going to resign up here, it’s not going to me Mr. Moreno, it’s going to be you.”
Councilmember Moreno began his comment with a repeat of what he said during the previous session, that his main concern was the city’s procurement process and that that was what this was really about.
“There are people that have come up here, which is fine, political candidates that Councilwoman Forte endorsed, people that have given contracts to Councilwoman Forte’s business, that’s okay,” Moreno said. “They’re free to speak, but they don’t have the facts.”
The crowd interrupted him until Mayor Randy Rhoads requested order.
“The problem is, that while we do have relationships Councilwoman Forte, and I 100% have no doubt that you’ve built strong relationships with the folks in the community that have continued to give you business, you chose on April 2014 to become an elected official; and when you do that, there are rules and laws that you abide by in order to operate a business with the city’s tax dollars, because this is not a social club, this is not student council, this is city council and this is the tax payer’s business.”
Councilmember Moreno read the following email sent to Tede Price from Hollie Couch on September 24, 2014.
I prefer us to NOT work with Dean’s on this one. Diane Forte has branched off into her own plaque, promotional products, trophies business. I have told her we would like pricing. Please keep me posted on progress and I can get you her contact info.
Moreno then stated that Forte had previously stated that he did not know that other businesses were being affected.
“The law is not in place to protect friendships, Councilwoman Forte. The law is not in place to protect networks and relationships. The law is in place to protect all businesses, including yours.”
He then proceeded to reach four more emails.
Sent from Diane Forte to Carole Culbertson on November 30, 2014,
“Absolutely, just let me know the specs, and if you could find out those specs, along with the invoice that “other Company” I was with, maybe from Gary, if he is back to work
And if it is not too much trouble
Thanks so much
Please tell Brad Hello, and have a great Thanksgiving!
In another email sent from Lisa Huskey to Devin Wetzel on September 22, 2015, Huskey is asking where to go for memorial plates for benches. Wetzel directs her directly to Diane Forte Enterprises.
Another employee of Parks expressed disbelief upon hearing about the new company when she was asked on April 2, 2015.
Moreno also read the email that Councilmember Mosby first read.
“Folks, the bottom line is this, I have more than one constituent in the fourth district who has a business that feeds their family that does similar lines of work as Diane Forte, in fact Diane Forte provides one of them with all of her work, or at least she used to. They don’t have the ability to get business because the business is not being sent to them, it’s being sent to an elected official on this body and it’s not being bid out in accordance to state law,” Moreno said.
Moreno also stated that he believed that if this had been anyone other than Forte, the attendance in the room would be very different. He also pointed out that while many in the room were vocal about the actions of the Superintendent and School Board, “as unethical and as awkward as the school board situation was what we’re dealing with here actually potentially violations of the law.”
“I ask Councilwoman Forte to strongly take into consideration this community because this community was not taken into consideration when multiple businesses were punished. This community was not taken into consideration when there’s emails that say ‘send the larger ones to Diane Forte Enterprises and the smaller ones elsewhere.'”
Councilmember Carlyle apologized for the meeting starting the way it had and asked that the council “pause and reflect on the reasons we were elected to this office.”
“That reason was to represent our constituents I don’t believe any of our constituents put us here to attack each other or to attack city staff.”
Stating that the personal attacks have gone too far and the focus has been moved away from their city duties, Carlyle stressed that as a body they needed to be able to work together and be able to respectfully disagree.
Mayor Rhoads ended the Council Comments by agreeing with Carlyle and stating that the procurement procedures of the city to need tightening. He stated that a recommendation will be coming forward that would specify that no city department may do business with an elected official, whether it has been bid or not. Once it comes forward, the council will discuss and vote.
“It’s time to move on, and we have other business.”
Since the Tribune found the email of payment being made through the Park’s Foundation, we have filed a sunshine request for all transactions, invoices and payments from the Parks Foundation to Diane Forte, Diane Forte Enterprises LLC and its fictitious name of Dean’s Trophies.
Readers may obtain the email files by contacting us at email@example.com or visiting the office at 219 SE Douglas.