By Debby Woodin
Campaign finance reports filed for the recent Joplin City Council election show that one incumbent accepted contributions from two council appointees while another candidate paid a current council member for campaign work.
A third incumbent returned to office by voters took the extra step of filing a statement with the city clerk indicating that a campaign contribution from a shopping center owner did not influence his vote a few weeks later on a subsequent zoning request sought by the donor.
Voters on April 3 re-elected three incumbents. William “Bill” Scearce and Morris Glaze were returned to general seats, and Melodee Colbert-Kean won the race for the Zone 2 seat.
Scearce, 70, 626 Jaccard Place, won a second consecutive term with 2,862 votes.
Glaze, 61, 3321 Delaware Ave., received 2,561 votes for his second consecutive term, following a two-year term he served by appointment.
Their challengers were Ryan Jackson, 29, 1729 S. Wall Ave., who received 2,413 votes; Jim West, 61, 1602 Valley St., who got 2,394 votes; and Shaun Steele, 40, 230 N. Sergeant Ave., with 1,393 votes.
Colbert-Kean, 44, 527 N. Moffet Ave., received 3,573 votes, while her challenger, Harvey Hutchinson, 67, 4512 W. 27th Place, got 2,622 votes.
‘No ... ties to my vote’
Scearce took in $9,013.48 to fund his campaign, including a $2,000 loan he made to his own campaign, according to Scearce for Council Committee disclosure reports.
An interim report on March 2 shows contributions of more than $100 to Scearce from Henry W. Robertson, $150; Calvin Bernard, $200; and the Committee to Elect Ron Richard, $500. (Richard is a former Joplin mayor and current state senator.) A report on March 23 shows contributions of more than $100 from Dr. Hish Majzoub, $800; David Humphreys, $1,000; Dr. T. Keith Grebe, Steve Giles and Gary Garvin, $150; Larry Kloeppel, $200; Lance Beshore, $200; and William Leffen, $500.
Scearce on May 7 voted in favor of zoning that will allow Majzoub to expand a retail shopping center, the BelAire Plaza, at 20th Street and Range Line Road. The shopping center was destroyed by the tornado on May 22, 2011.
Asked if that contribution had influenced his vote, Scearce said, “No ma’am, it would not. I have filed a statement with the city clerk that it will not affect my vote.”
City Clerk Barbara Hogelin said that Scearce provided the statement about the contribution and asked her to place it in his city file. She said it is not a typical procedure for City Council members to enter such statements. “I don’t recall ever having that before from anybody,” she said. The statement was filed April 30.
“No campaign donation that was made to me has any ties to my vote,” Scearce said.
Majzoub could not be reached for comment.
The vote in favor of rezoning the BelAire Plaza was unanimous, and there is no record of Majzoub giving money to other candidates in the April election.
City Attorney Brian Head said that the city’s rules on council ethics only require that council members abstain from voting if they have a personal financial stake in a matter or that, if they vote, they must disclose any financial interest. He said that rules does not apply to campaign contributors.
The Morris Glaze for City Council Committee reported $3,875 collected for his campaign.
Donations of $100 or more for the Glaze campaign came from the Committee to Elect Ron Richard; Bradley Beecher, Carl Junction; Clifford Wert, Webb City; and Douglas Doll, Logan Stanley and Phil Stinnett, all of Joplin, $100; Tom and Jeany Franz and Russ and Suzy Alcorn, all of Webb City, $150; Lawrence Kloeppel, $200; and John Joines, Carthage, Lawrence Hickey Trust, and Allen Shirley, $325. Jeany Franz was the committee treasurer.
Glaze contributed $1,000 to his own campaign. He said that when he ran for council in 2008, he funded his entire campaign himself without contributions.
Two of his contributors are council appointees. Doll is chairman of the city’s Public Safety Sales Tax Commission, which reviews city spending of the tax money. Stinnett is a former council member who was recently named by the council to the board of trustees of the Joplin Tornado First Response Fund. He was later elected chairman of that group. All those members are appointed by the council. That board oversees the distribution of funds received by the city following the May 22, 2011, tornado.
Glaze said he did not believe it is a conflict for him to take campaign donations from council appointees and said that is because he did not solicit the donations himself.
He said he set up a business plan to run his campaign. “I appointed three lieutenants and they solicited among their networking people funds. I did not contact them (donors) direct. I did send ‘thank-you’ letters,” Glaze added.
Two of the donors listed on his report, Brad Beecher, chief executive officer of Empire District Electric Co., and Allen Shirley, were lieutenants, as was Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.
Candidate Jim West’s “West for Council” committee on April 18 reported collections of $6,954.52. The report does not list any contributions of $100 or more but it does show a number of expenses for campaign workers. Smaller contributions are not required to be broken out, under Missouri law.
The report shows that West himself was paid $702 in expenses, though the report does not require the expenses to be detailed. “They were for meetings where I met with people for dinner and for travel expenses like gas to go to campaign meetings,” West said of the payments made to him from his fund.
Julie Allen, executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, which collects reports of candidates and campaigns and acts on complaints of campaign law violations, said that Missouri law sets out a number of legitimate campaign expenses for which candidates can be reimbursed.
That law says that contributions cannot be converted to personal use but can be used for “any ordinary expenses incurred relating to a campaign” as well as for entertaining or social courtesies to constituents, professional organizations and other elected officials.
West’s report also shows that Councilwoman Trisha Raney received a payment of $610. He said he hired her to build and maintain a campaign website.
Raney, who has a background in both law and in computer programming, said Saturday that her work for West didn’t constitute an endorsement, and that while she was hired to build a web page, she didn’t allow her name be used to generate votes for him.
According to Head, the city attorney, council ethics rules prohibit council members from using their official title in support of a political party or candidate, but Head said he does not interpret that to mean that a council member cannot be hired to do work or provide services for a campaign.
Melodee Colbert-Kean, who was elected as mayor by the council following the election, received a number of contributions from labor unions and business owners.
She received a $500 donation from the Missouri State Council of Firefighters of Blue Springs, an organization that represents Joplin firefighters. Her husband, William Kean, was on the board of trustees of the Joplin Police and Firemen’s Pension Fund. As mayor, she is the ex-officio chairman of the pension board, conducting the meetings but not voting. Her husband resigned from that board when she was elected mayor.
Colbert-Kean’s other contributions above $100: Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local 178, $300; Hackett Hot Wings, $100; Richard Starkweather, Joplin; Springfield Building and Construction Trades PAC of Springfield; Laborers Local Union No. 319; and Carpenters District Council of Greater St. Louis and Vicinity, all $200.
She said she does not feel there is anything wrong with taking contributions from the organizations because they represent local members. “They want their concerns listened to like everyone else,” she said. “I tell them I can’t make decisions” based on their contributions.
Her opponent in the race for the Zone 2 seat, Harvey Hutchinson, received about $3,365 and spent about $3,352, according to his last filing on May 2.
A large part of his contributions came from local businesspeople and himself. He contributed a total of $925, according to all the reports he filed. His other donors were Roper Buick GMC and James Hicklin of Abbey Title Co., $500 each; Barrett Satterlee of Satterlee Plumbing, $300; and Edward McAllister, $200.
A final report by the Jackson for Joplin campaign on May 7 showed $2,760 in expenditures for candidate Ryan Jackson. It lists one contribution of more than $100 — a $300 contribution from W.L. Gehrs of Joplin.
Candidate Shaun Steele filed no reports, indicating less than $1,000 was spent.
Julie Allen, executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, said that state law requires that campaign finance records be kept for three years from the date of the election.