The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 2, 2012

Attorney briefs TDD board on legal snag

By Josh Letner
news@joplinglobe.com

NEOSHO, Mo. — The Neosho Transportation Development District board was briefed by its attorney, Chris Williams, on Wednesday regarding a person living within the district and the possible ramifications.

Williams told the board that it came to his attention that at least one person, and possibly up to three people, were residing at the Neosho Inn, which is located within the TDD’s boundaries. The intent of the TDD is to have no residential property within the boundaries.

Similar to the opinion City Attorney Steve Hays delivered to the Neosho City Council last week, Williams told the board that the residency of Rick Mitchell, owner of the Neosho Inn, within the district during two votes — one last April to elect the district’s board and one in September to approve a half-cent sales tax to fund projects within the district — could render those elections invalid.

Williams said he hoped to get an opinion from the TDD’s former attorney, the firm of Gilmore & Bell, of St. Louis, but last Tuesday the City Council denied a conflict of interest waiver for Gilmore & Bell that would have allowed it to provide an opinion. The council cited city projects in which Gilmore & Bell was doing legal work as its reason for denying the request.

“It’s a mess,” Williams told the board. “And we’re left to clean it up.”

Williams said he intends to study court records, property records, voter registration records and case law in an attempt to ascertain what action the board should take next.

“We’re not going to do this with a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach,” he said. “Everyone in this room realizes that this is a significant issue that could have an impact on the $2.4 million in MoDOT cost share funds,” a reference to the Missouri Department of Transportation’s funding for the local projects.

Williams said it could take several weeks to complete his investigation into the matter. He said he would advise the board to postpone its annual election until the issues are resolved.

That statement did not sit well with Councilman Steve Hart, who attended the meeting. After the meeting, Hart said it is the TDD board’s responsibility to hold an election.

“Representation is a fundamental constitutional right as far as the city is concerned,” Hart said. “April 5 (2011), they elected a board member to serve a one-year term. It is now May 2. The TDD is a taxing entity, not just some corporate body. These are taxpayer funds they are dealing with, and the people deserve adequate representation.”

Although the city of Neosho is the largest single landowner in the transportation district, it did not participate in the April 2011 election of the TDD board and abstained from the September sales tax vote, deferring to the wishes of the private landowners. The city has since indicated its intention to participate in all future TDD elections.





Background



THE NEOSHO TDD was formed in February 2011 and encompasses about 527 acres along the U.S. Highway 60 corridor. The purpose of the TDD is to fund transportation infrastructure projects within the district.

THE TDD IS FUNDED by a half-cent sales tax approved by a vote of landowners in September 2011. The tax applies only to purchases made within the district and will sunset in 20 years.

BECKY BALTZ, district engineer with the state highway department, said bidding for the first TDD project — a traffic signal at Kodiak Road and U.S. 60 — was scheduled to be advertised this month, but that is on hold until the current issues are resolved.