By Linda Greer

NEOSHO, Mo. — Although his first ordinance revision met with some opposition, City Manager Jan Blase said he expects to have 10 to 12 more ready for council approval in months to come.

Blase, who was hired in June, said last month that he had hoped to have another ordinance amendment ready for council approval on August 15 that deals with official disclosure of real-estate sales, but has since decided to wait to present it to the council.

“We will combine that one with several others that need some housekeeping,” Blase said Thursday.

“ I wanted to get them all together rather than bringing them one at a time to the council,” Blase said.

On June 20 Blase introduced an amendment to an ordinance to allow appointed or elected city officials to do business with the city if the bidding process is followed. The old ordinance, last revised in 1979, banned any business between officials and the city, although it was often ignored.

Blase said he looked into revising the ordinance when he learned that Councilman Matt Persinger was slated to repair an air conditioner at the Municipal Auditorium. He discovered that the city code forbid an elected official from doing work for profit for the city.

Besides doing refrigeration work, Persinger sells dairy products through Hiland Dairy Products to the city concession stands. Mayor Jeff Werneke, manager of Neosho Box and Wood, sells mulch to the city parks department.

Werneke and Persinger abstained from voting on the first reading of the amendment in June because they were waiting on payment from the city for $24 for mulch and less than $100 for confections. On July 18, both voted to amend the ordinance on final consideration.

Councilwoman RoseMarie Carnes earlier this week questioned the fact that both voted on the second reading. Her objections came during approval of the minutes.

“I thought they were ineligible to vote because they were actively doing business with the city,” she said.

Carnes said City Attorney Steve Hays talked to her and Councilman Jim Smallwood on June 6 about the proposed ordinance change that would allow members to do business with the city.

When the amendment was introduced in June, Hays said the revision was needed because the past ordinance completely barred officers and employees, including committee members, from being involved in city contracts.

“What I see would happen, if enforced, is we would have a mass exodus of many of our committees,” Hays said in June. “Quite honestly, we would probably have very few people wanting to run for council who have any type of contact (with the city).”

Hays himself was the recent subject of a council review that concluded in July that a land deal involving Hays’ partnership, Two Nice Guys Investments, was not achieved by using inside information. The council did not review whether it was proper under its ordinance for Hays to sell a portion of the land to the city for a road easement.

Hays told Carnes that at the first reading, Werneke and Persinger had contracts with the city.

“At that time, it would not have been proper (for them to vote),” Hays said. “The conflict required that those two members abstain.”

By the second reading in July, both contracts had been completed, he said.

There was no opposition to the bill to revise the ordinance at the June 20 public hearing. The bill passed on July 18 with four votes for and Carnes voting against it.

Carnes said she was “caught by surprise” in July when Werneke and Persinger voted, and did not question the action until last week.

Blase said he could not comment on past practices of city management.

Blase said he checked city financial records at Carnes’ request, and learned that Persinger’s and Werneke’s transactions with the city had not exceeded $1,000 annually during the last five years.

Carnes, a retired school teacher, said she voted to approve the amended ordinance in June because she knew that without her approval, the motion would have died.

She said some council members had threatened to leave the council if the ordinance was not changed. However, in the second reading Carnes voted against amending the ordinance.

“I thought it was best that we do not do business with the city,” Carnes said. “People were telling me that the ordinance was there for a reason.”

Smallwood, an employee of Southwest Missouri Bank in Neosho, said in an earlier interview that he “tries not to wear too many hats,” and does not do business with the city.

Howard Birdsong, owner of Birdsong and Associates consulting firm, said he has conducted business with the city, but not while he was on the council. He said he followed the law that requires city officials to be disassociated with the city for one year before entering into a city contract.

Other ordinances being reviewed

Neosho City Manager Jan Blase said he expects to have ordinance amendments ready for council approval in October that deal with the following: real-estate disclosure; personnel; annexation; water/wastewater; extension of utilities outside the city limits; and drainage.

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