Springfield City Council to Debate Hearing Examiner for Fisk Investigation

The Springfield City Council will debate a resolution at Monday’s council meeting that will appoint a hearing examiner to investigate allegations of violations of city code and/or charter by Councilwoman Jan Fisk.

The resolution will be a one-reading bill; meaning the public will be able to comment to Council and the Council could take action on the resolution at that meeting.

Mayor McClure has nominated Springfield resident Kenneth Thompson to be the Hearing Examiner. Thompson would be authorized under the resolution to investigate the “reasonable grounds” determined by the Missouri Ethics Commission regarding complaints filed against Councilwoman Fisk.

The resolution states in part that:

The Hearing Examiner is authorized and directed to conduct a hearing with respect to the matters hereinafter referred, and to thereafter make written findings of fact and conclusions of law as to a determination concerning the propriety of the conduct of Councilmember Fisk, and to file such findings and conclusions with the City Council for such further action as the Council may determine in accord with Section 2-60(p) of the City Code of Springfield.

The resolution says the following two questions are the matters in front of the Hearing Commissioner:

  1. Has Councilmember Jan Fisk filed complete, accurate and timely personal financial interest statements as required by Sec. 2-8 of the Springfield City Code and Sec. 57 105.450 through 105.496, RSMo., during her service on the Springfield City Council?
  2. Has Councilmember Jan Fisk had a financial interest, direct or indirect, in any contract with the City, or been financially interested, directly or indirectly, in the sale to the City of any services, except on behalf of the City as an officer or employee in violation of the provisions of Sec. 19-16 of the Springfield City Charter and/or Sec. 2-60 of the Springfield City Code?

Section 2-8 of the Springfield City Code relates to “Disclosure of Certain Transactions”, and code section 2-60 refers to the “Code of Ethics.” Springfield City Charter section 19-16 is related to “Officers and employees interested in contracts.”

The sections of Missouri state law referenced in question one, Sec. 57 105.450 through 105.496, are connected to a series of statutes related to “regulation of conflict of interest and lobbying.”

Here is the resolution being considered at Monday’s meeting:

ResolutionJanFiskOctober2019

CITY COUNCIL’S SPECIAL COUNSEL SUBMITS MEMO REGARDING ALLEGATIONS AGAINST FISK

The City Council’s special counsel looking into the matter, Kevin O’Keefe, submitted a memo dated September 24, 2019 regarding “Complaints Against Councilmember Fisk.” In addition to addressing the complaints referred by the Missouri Ethics Commission, O’Keefe also looked at other complaints later filed by a citizen against Fisk.

The memo notes that the Code of Ethics, Code Section 2-60, does not require disclosure or recusal by councilmembers for an alleged “personal” interest in any legislation. He expands on how the bills in question would impact all landowners in the city on an equal manner and thus Fisk’s “monetary or other material benefit”, or “financial interest” as defined in Code Section 2-60, would be no different than anyone else impacted by the ordinance including other members of City Council.

“As a general rule, a legislator does not have a disqualifying “interest” in legislation if the legislator is affected by the legislation in the same way as the rest of the public subject to the proposed legislation,” the memo reads.

The memo continues to say that the interests of her son Barrett Fisk would fall under the ordinances in the same manner as every other landowner; thus even if Jan Fisk was defined as having an “interest” in her son’s properties, they would all be under the same regulations as other community members.

O’Keefe’s memo states that complaints filed on July 2 and August 5 against Fisk do not “rise to the level necessary to support referral to a hearing examiner.” O’Keefe notes that the law says tax issues related to property under RSMo., 115.306.2 refer to their place of residence and that Fisk does not reside at any of the properties in the complaints.

The memo also states in a caveat that the “court of public opinion” is not bound by the distinctions of the legal system and that Council Bill 2019-058’s initiation so close to Barrett Fisk having a dispute with the City’s code enforcement department could be “reasonably” viewed by an observer that “Ms. Fisk had a “personal” (those not necessarily “private”) interest in the subject.”

“It is axiomatic that the appearance of impropriety can be as damaging to public confidence in government as actual misconduct,” the memo’s second caveat reads. “A cautious legislator leans toward transparency and disclosure of even marginally problematic circumstances so as to avoid risking public confidence due to misunderstanding or nondisclosure. Fellow Councilmembers can rightly feel – and express – disappointment and chagrin with conduct that falls short of the mark.”

Here is the memo sent to Council by Kevin O’Keefe:

OKeefememo

PROPOSED HEARING EXAMINER THOMPSON IS A SEASONED JUDGE

Kenneth Thompson, Mayor McClure’s proposed Hearing Examiner, is a lawyer and judge who has been involved in law since 1976.

Thompson was an attorney and partner at Haymes, Sims, and Thompson from 1976 through 2001 along with being an assistant prosecuting attorney, part time, from 1978-2001.

In 2001 he became associate circuit judge for the 30th Judicial Circuit (Webster County) and continued in that role until 2018.

He has also been a municipal judge for Marshfield, Rogersville, Seymour, Fordland, and Niangua.

He also spent ten years as a member of the 30th Judicial Circuit Ethics Committee, investigating and evaluating ethics complaints against attorneys.

EIGHT COUNCIL MEMBERS SIGNED THE REVISED REQUEST FOR A HEARING EXAMINER

Eight Council members signed a revised document asking for a Hearing Examiner after the memo from O’Keefe.

The revised request notes the O’Keefe memo’s noting that sanctions for any action taken by Fisk related to Council Bill 2019-058 were not warranted and removed that portion from the initial request for an Examiner.

The Council’s revised request notes the alleged violation involving Executive Limousines, which outsources work to Fisk Limousines. It also addresses disclosure of financial interests under City Code 2-8.

“It is believed Councilmember Jan Fisk failed to comply with those reporting requirements in regard to her association with Fisk Limousines and its business activities,” the request states.

Here is the referral letter:

Referral-Letter-Fisk-Oct-19

(OI has reached out to Councilmembers about the resolution and will update this story if they respond.)