By Ryan Richardson
DUQUESNE, Mo. —
Duquesne City Council member Lisa Daugherty recently filed a lawsuit against Mayor Denny White seeking unspecified damages for an investigation that he triggered just before White and Daugherty each ran for mayor.
Daugherty claims in her lawsuit that her mayoral bid was damaged after White — “in his position of mayor and police commissioner” — directed Duquesne Police Chief Tommy Kitch to investigate Daugherty for allegedly making false statements about Duquesne’s financial situation.
Daugherty lost the April 2 election to White by two votes, 146 to 144.
According to a police report written by Kitch and filed on March 27, White contacted him on March 26 in reference to a conversation Daugherty had with Duquesne resident Wayne Green and another unidentified neighbor regarding the city’s finances. Specifically, Daugherty is accused of stating that the city of Duquesne was “unable to pay the sewer debt to the city of Joplin in the amount of $18,000,” the police report states.
According to the police report, White learned of these statements from a third-party conversation between Duquesne Court Clerk Janet Stemm and Duquesne resident Jan Green, Wayne Green’s wife.
Kitch indicated in his police report that he had initial concerns about the scope of the investigation, including whether it was even a criminal matter, and after talking with Mike Talley, city attorney, it was agreed that Kitch would focus on whether there had been any violations of city ordinances that govern the conduct of council members.
Kitch’s report states that he found no misconduct, either criminal or of city ordinance, by Daugherty after speaking with Wayne Green, and that Daugherty was “assisting with billing information and provided no further information.” Kitch relayed his findings to White and told him that no violations of criminal code or city ordinance had occurred.
“Mayor White instructed me to continue the investigation,” Kitch noted in his report, and then also wrote in it: “At this juncture, a written report would be initiated due to liability concerns.”
Kitch also noted that Daugherty’s conversation with Green occurred in the context of her campaign for mayor.
“Investigation tends to indicate these are politically motivated situations and law enforcement presence could be construed as impeding or interfering with the democratic process,” Kitch wrote, and closed the investigation.
White declined to comment about Kitch’s information or any information contained in Kitch’s report, citing pending litigation. He also declined to comment when asked why he initiated an investigation of Daugherty.
“It would not be in my interest to comment on anything relating to this lawsuit,” White said.
Wayne Green last week said his conversation with Daugherty during her campaign focused on an issue related to a water bill.
“She had mentioned people that had not got hooked up yet with the sewer and that some were not paying a sewer charge,” Green said. “I had questions about my bill and that was what I recall our conversation being about.”
White said Duquesne issued $4.5 million in bonds in 2007 to finance a new sewage collection system, but that debt is not paid to the city of Joplin. Parts of the sewer system were damaged by the May 22, 2011, tornado. The city has a moratorium on payment on that debt until early 2014. The city paid an additional $161,000 to evaluate the sewer line for damage.
According to White, that money will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In an interview Tuesday, White said that the city of Duquesne will meet its financial obligations of the bonds when payments resume next year.
Leslie Haase, CPA for the city of Joplin, said that the only bill that the city of Duquesne pays on a regular basis to Joplin is for normal water usage for Duquesne’s city hall.
“There is no outstanding bill from the city relating to wastewater,” Haase said. “If there was, it definitely would not be anywhere close to $18,000.”
Sewer and trash bills had previously been billed as part of the Missouri American Water billing, but Joplin took over billing for Duquesne in January 2013.
“We have maintained a steady bill paying cycle due to good financial stewardship,” said White. “It has been like this since I was on council, it has been like this since I have been mayor.”
Kitch declined to comment on the report, citing the litigation.
Daugherty, who filed her lawsuit last month in Jasper County Circuit Court, said in the court filing that details about Duquesne’s water and sewer agreements, along with the bond issue, were all discussed in an open meeting in March, and that during her door-to-door campaigning she discussed these issues with Duquesne residents.
Because of that, she claims in her suit, she has “sustained damages” and is seeking an unspecified amount for compensation.
City officials also were advised by Mike Talley, city attorney, to refer the lawsuit to the city’s insurance company, which the city must do under it contract. The city is responsible for covering the $5,000 deductible and the insurance company will pay the cost of a legal defense.
White is represented by Tim Mudd, of Cummings, McClorey, Davis and Acho of Kansas City. Mudd confirmed that he is representing White, but declined further comment.
Daugherty is represented by Mike Smalley, of Joplin. Attempts to reach Smalley for statement were unsuccessful. In an interview this week, Daugherty spoke out against the initial investigation, but declined to comment on the lawsuit.
“The investigation should not have been conducted,” Daugherty said. “It was third-party hearsay.”
Daugherty said that she also wants to continue her work on the council.
“I’ve wanted from the beginning for the council to work together and I still want it to,” she said.
White was not as optimistic about the relationship the two have.
“There never has been a working relationship between us and probably will never be,” he said.
White also said that he feels that the city should not be involved in the lawsuit.
“I think it is outrageous that the city is being dragged into this and will have to pay the deductible,” White said.
No scheduled hearing date had been made for the lawsuit as of last week.