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City Beat: Council acts on ethics complaint against Fisk

Alleged conflicts of interest are the basis of planned investigation

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Springfield City Council will investigate a conflict of interest complaint filed against Councilwoman Jan Fisk, the mayor said at the end of the March 25 council meeting.

At issue is a Missouri Ethics Commission complaint filed in November 2018, alleging Fisk violated city charter by inappropriately receiving financial benefits from the city in her capacity as co-founder of J. Howard Fisk Limousines Inc.

Mayor Ken McClure said the review was brought about by a letter he received from seven council members: Richard Ollis, Andrew Lear, Matthew Simpson, Thomas Prater, Mike Schilling, Craig Hosmer and Fisk. Councilwoman Phyllis Ferguson and McClure did not sign it.

Fisk followed McClure’s announcement with a statement at the meeting.

“Before running for council seven years ago, I sought legal guidance from the city attorney about potential conflicts of interest or even perceived conflicts that might impact my ability to serve,” said Fisk, who’s also mayor pro tem. “Fisk Transportation, my husband, my son, my family are all once again being attacked by allegations that I want to have clarified and I want to respond to.”

The November 2018 MEC complaint, filed by retired litigation paralegal and community activist Linda Simkins, seeks to remove Fisk from office.

The complaint points out two low bids from Fisk Limousines on city contracts in 2012 and 2013 after Fisk was appointed to council.

After the recent council meeting, Simkins said she filed the complaint after watching a council meeting on the city’s website and seeing Fisk vote on the bids.

“My opinion, and I’m pretty strong on this, is I think she should resign,” she said.

Fisk is accused of violating a statute in city charter dubbed “officers and employees interested in contracts.” The statute prohibits council members and city employees from having a “financial interest, direct or indirect, in any contract with the city, or be financially interested, directly or indirectly, in the sale to the city of any land, materials, supplies or services, except on behalf of the city as an officer or employee.”

Council’s investigation into the MEC complaint was unexpected, as the item was not listed on the March 25 meeting agenda. It comes four months after the initial complaint was filed.

Questioned about the timing of the city’s investigation, Councilman Richard Ollis said the MEC referred the complaint back to the city in late February or early March after commission review, and council acted on the MEC referral upon receipt.

City spokeswoman Cora Scott said the timeline for the investigation process and selection of a hearing examiner has not yet been determined. Being an unbudgeted expense, officials are unsure of the costs.

Fisk said in her statement she will fully cooperate with the investigation.

“It is my sincere hope that we can use this as an opportunity to fully review the orientation process for new council members, but would also like to suggest a citizen-led effort to review the city charter and make recommendations to City Council about what steps might bring more clarity to those wishing to serve our community as elected officials in the future,” she said.

Grant funds
The city is in line to receive roughly $1.3 million in Community Development Block Grants and $967,000 in Home Investment Partnership Program funds through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Senior City Planner Bob Atchley told council.

Home program funds are designated for affordable housing, Atchley said, and a portion of CDBG funds are set aside for discretionary public service projects to benefit low-to-moderate income persons.

Community housing development organizations are required to receive roughly 15 percent of total HUD appropriations. “This year, that 15 percent would equate to approximately $192,000 available in discretionary public service funding,” Atchley said.

The city received 15 applications totaling nearly $356,000 in requested discretionary public service funds.

Atchley said increases in funding were realized in fiscal 2018 with CDBG funding growing by roughly $100,000 and Home program funding up about $265,000. “However, with these increases in HUD funding, we’re still significantly down from 2009 levels,” he said.

According to city documents, the proposal for the $1.3 million in CDBG funding is in four categories: $585,937 for the Comprehensive Housing Assistance program; $321,545 for CDBG administration; $176,320 for planning and neighborhood conservation; and $104,468 for One Door, a program through Community Partnership of the Ozarks.

Home program funds would be allocated for housing rehabilitation and new infill construction in the amount of $676,900, along with $145,000 set aside for community housing development organizations and $48,350 for those organizations’ operating expenses, according to city documents.

An additional $96,700 would be for Home fund administration.

Council is scheduled to vote on the funding bill April 8.

Rezoning requests
Council unanimously approved four rezoning requests.

Ozarks Technical Community College’s properties at 1116 and 1120 E. Pythian St., 922-933 N. Florence Ave. and 941 N. National Ave., were rezoned to a governmental and institutional use district.

OTC officials plan to turn the 3.73 acres into surface parking, in part, to meet needs related to the plan to build a $20 million Center for Advanced Manufacturing by fall 2022.

An ordinance tabled March 11 regarding a rezoning and annexation in west Springfield, was approved with amendments.

Council members added four conditions regarding bufferyards and tree preservation and an amended site plan for 9 acres at 3851 W. Farm Road 148/University Street next to Menards on Sunshine Street.

The applicant, A&R Property Developers LLC, wanted the property rezoned to a medium density multifamily residential district from a neighborhood commercial district, and is planning commercial uses in the front with a 193-unit maximum multifamily development in the back.

A rezoning of 43.5 acres near the Division Street and Eldon Avenue intersection is moving forward at 1325 N. Eldon Ave. after council approval for Positronic Industries Inc.’s northwest Springfield plant.

The acreage, rezoned to a general manufacturing district from a planned development, was reclassified for future expansion.

In east Springfield, Excel Investments LLC had its zoning of 3040 E. Cherry St. changed to general manufacturing. Excel is planning a members-only dog park with day care and kenneling services on 1.8 acres on Cherry.

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