Springfield City Council voted unanimously Nov. 16 to end the investigation into conflict-of-interest allegations facing Councilperson Jan Fisk.
Mayor Ken McClure pointed to a letter signed by all council members “requesting the withdrawal of a request for referral to a hearing examiner of allegations of misconduct on the part of council member Jan Fisk.” He cited two voluntary actions taken by Fisk on Nov. 2, when she amended her financial disclosure forms and paid the city $3,453 in the name of J. Howard Fisk Limousines Inc.
Fisk was accused by a whistleblower of allegedly benefiting financially from her role as co-founder of Fisk Limousines through a city contract involving the company. Allegations also have involved private interest in Galloway Village blight legislation and unpaid tax payments on properties Fisk owns with her husband and son, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
At council’s Nov. 2 meeting, Fisk denied any wrongdoing and said she made the nearly $3,500 payment to the city because it represents the sum anyone could reasonably believe she or her family gained through the alleged activity. She also said she disclosed personal financial information to avoid any public confusion about the allegations raised against her.
“To avoid even the perception of wrongdoing, I return those funds to the city so that every citizen in Springfield can rest assured that no public funds benefited me or my family,” Fisk said. “An allegation of misconduct can be as damning and damaging to a councilperson and to the city as actual misconduct.”
Fisk reiterated a prior stance that the city’s charter and code should be “reviewed and revised so that the city, the council and our citizens know clearly what their rights, responsibilities and duties are.”
At the Nov. 16 meeting, Councilperson Mike Schilling agreed that Fisk’s situation brought to light the need to update the city charter and code.
“I think this brings to a head the need to take a look at our ethics ordinance. We have had two of these ethics cases within the last few years and they have drug on and on, and cost tens of thousands of dollars,” Schilling said, noting he’d like to see a simplified process where council could address similar allegations without hiring an attorney.
In October 2019, the city hired retired Webster County Associate Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Thompson as the hearing examiner, though a scheduled administrative hearing to discuss the allegations was canceled this summer.
Springfield spokesperson Cora Scott said the city paid roughly $117,000 in fees for council’s attorney and the hearing examiner’s time over the past two years.
Councilperson Andrew Lear said at the Nov. 16 meeting that he was not happy with the outcome of the case, despite saying he has high regard for Fisk.
“Almost two years ago, eight members of council signed a referral letter regarding these allegations, including council member Fisk, who stated at the time that she welcomed the opportunity for a hearing to resolve these issues,” Lear said, noting the council resolution approved “unfortunately” means the hearing will not occur.
“However, due to the nature of the discovery presented in this case and the unlikelihood of a clear, convincing or timely resolution, it is apparent to me that there will be no better conclusion reached than that.”
Fisk has said she will not be running for reelection in April 2021.
Jefferson Avenue Footbridge
The Jefferson Avenue Footbridge has been closed for over four years, yet the city is still seeking funding and contractors for the repair work. The city closed the bridge in March 2016 over structural issues and safety concerns, according to past SBJ reporting.
At the council meeting, city engineer Andrew Flippin said in 2018 the city entered a contract with the Missouri Department of Transportation to use federal funds for the project. The estimated rehabilitation cost in 2018 was $2.5 million with federal funds covering 80% of the cost and the city paying 20%.
But two years later, Flippin said the project cost has increased to at least $2.9 million because the construction world has changed since 2018.
“Contractors are very busy; therefore, they don’t necessarily need the work,” he said. “And the work they do go after, they bid high.”
Council is considering increasing the footbridge budget and allowing city officials to use more federal funds through their contract with MoDOT. In the agreement, if bids came in high, anything over $2.5 million would have to be fully covered by local money, Flippin said. The proposal would increase the budget to $2.9 million, to cover the current estimate, plus 10% to total $3.2 million. Federal funds would still cover 80%, he said.
“There is a possibility that the feds would require the city to award the project if it’s within 10% of the estimate, so we included that in our budget,” Flippin said.
If council approves the measure, Flippin said city officials would like to get project bids by the end of the year. If council approves the bids, construction could begin in the spring or summer, Flippin said at the meeting.
Additionally, Flippin asked council to accept the remaining balance of funds raised by the Commercial Club of Springfield for rehabilitation of the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge. The club had raised $50,000 toward the project, according to past SBJ reporting, and $15,000 already has been given. Council is scheduled to vote on both bills Nov. 30.
CARES Act funds
Council is scheduled to vote Nov. 30 to accept a Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act grant from the U.S. Department of Treasury and Greene County in the amount of $34,689. The money would be used to support staff costs in the city’s Department of Workforce Development, said interim Director Sally Payne. The grant also is part of the $34.4 million in federal funds that Greene County officials received over the summer.
Once a week this time of year, roughly 150 men trade business suits and work attire for baseball uniforms – complete from caps to cleats – for the Grip N Rip Baseball league.