The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

August 28, 2012

Neosho TDD board election redo ordered

NEOSHO, Mo. — The Neosho Transportation Development District must hold a new election for a board member, this time without participation of the board that governs the Missouri Department of Transportation.

That was the announcement on Tuesday of Associate Circuit Judge Kevin Selby, a result of an agreement among attorneys for the city of Neosho, the TDD and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.

“The TDD board election of July 16 will be done over, if you will,” said TDD attorney Mark Fels during the hearing. “It will be redone.”

The new election may be held after 60 days from Tuesday’s date.

Neosho Mayor Richard Davidson said by phone after the hearing that the city felt validated by the agreement. He said the city has been criticized by some for its actions.

“I’m not happy about the division that the TDD has caused,” Davidson said.

He said the city is trying to stand up for the rights of taxpayers.

“I’ve said repeatedly the TDD will be a great asset for the city for years to come,” Davidson said. “We don’t feel the TDD has followed the rules, followed the law. The TDD doesn’t have any direct accountability to the taxpayers. We have said we will provide some oversight and make sure taxpayer funds are spent correctly.”

Selby said there was merit to the city’s contention that there wasn’t adequate notice for the July 16 election. He also said it was “courteous” of the TDD to acknowledge that and agree to invalidate the election and hold a new one.

Negotiations and arguments were conducted behind closed doors in a courtroom, with only the judge and attorneys present. Other interested parties with the city and the TDD, and a reporter were kept out of the courtroom until the agreement was announced. Selby didn’t return a call seeking an explanation for the arrangement. He referred to the discussion as being “in chambers.”

Legal actions were filed by the city after the election, in which incumbent TDD board member Jim Cummins was re-elected over Steve Roark, the candidate backed by the Neosho City Council.

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, which governs MoDOT, participated in a TDD election for the first time ever in the Neosho election.

The suits filed by the city included seeking a new election and a ruling on the appropriateness of participation by the state agency. The documents asserted that adequate notice wasn’t given for the election and that the state commission wasn’t qualified to vote in the election.

“The parties shall prior to the new election proceed to take legal action to reflect the original intention of the parties that all MHTC property be excluded from the district for the purposes of voting or otherwise,” reads the court order.

Voting in the TDD election was determined by land ownership, with each property owner receiving one vote for each acre of land owned within the district.

The July vote was 338.52 for Cummins and 280.81 for Roark, a margin of nearly 58 votes. The state agency cast 93 votes based on its “ownership” of state roads in the district.

Cummins, now the TDD board chairman, said in a statement emailed to the Globe that the TDD will work with the city.

“We will comply fully with the judge’s order,” he said. “In large part, the judge has directed the TDD board and city of Neosho to work cooperatively to resolve the remaining issues. We intend to continue those efforts.”

Another court petition filed by the city could end the TDD. It contends that because the TDD was formed by the city as the local transportation authority, only property owners who lived within the district could participate in the initial mail-in vote to create the district in November 2010. But the district’s boundaries were established to not include any residential property, so there were no resident owners qualified to vote in the election creating the district.

That issue wasn’t addressed Tuesday, but it could be tackled at a hearing set for Oct. 29.

Until the Oct. 29 hearing, the judge’s order prohibits the TDD board from taking any actions except collecting its half-cent sales tax, completing a traffic signal project at U.S. Highway 60 and Kodiak Road, and conducting the election.

“The court hereby determines that there would be detrimental harm to all parties if the traffic light project was delayed or was prevented from proceeding,” reads Selby’s order.

Otherwise, the order directs the board and its employees to stop spending, appropriating, transferring or encumbering any of the TDD’s money.

The TDD’s half-cent sales tax is projected to pay for about $7.5 million in transportation projects within the district, with the state pledging to share $2.4 million of the projected cost.

MoDOT district engineer Becky Baltz said the agency hadn’t thoroughly reviewed the order.

“I know we’ll be looking at what the ruling was and how it will impact our projects,” she said.

Rudy Farber, of Neosho, chairman of the state highway commission, didn’t return a message left for him at his workplace. An assistant said he wasn’t expected back in the office until next week.

Sales tax

THE NEOSHO TRANSPORTATION DEVELOPMENT DISTRICT, which includes several retail stores, began collecting a half-cent sales tax in January.

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