Dissolved city position raises legality questions

By Edward Gehlert, Special Correspondent
Posted 6/19/24

BELLE — The recently dissolved city of Belle street commissioner position, which came with a combined salary of more than $52,000, has raised questions about the previous board of …

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Dissolved city position raises legality questions


BELLE — The recently dissolved city of Belle street commissioner position, which came with a combined salary of more than $52,000, has raised questions about the previous board of aldermen’s compliance with Missouri law during the creation of the office. The position lacked duties and oversight in addition to being based on a repealed ordinance.

The position was created during a special April 24, 2023, meeting where the board gave Marshal Jerry Coborn the title and a higher salary. However, no discernible duties accompanied the pay increase.

The proposed appointment was led by former mayor Daryl White, Jr. who assured the board he had consulted then-attorney Amanda Grellner when they raised questions about the legality of creating the office.

“I spent a lot of time talking to Amanda (Grellner) this week,” White, Jr. said at the meeting. “A lot of time talking to several people about the marshal’s salary.”

White, Jr. informed the board that Grellner stated she could defend the decision if it was contested.

“Her best opinion, Ordinance 115-020: that the marshal could be set up as street commissioner, that is what they did with Herb Henley, and pay him a salary,” said White, Jr. during the 2023 special meeting.

During the same meeting, Alderman Jeanette Struemph voiced concerns about making the appointment and asked to see verification from the city attorney saying, “I would like to see something from our lawyer to back this up. That we went to a lawyer and spoke to a lawyer.”

White Jr. said, “She (Grellner) said since we already have that in the ordinance — on the flip side of that, there is nothing that specifies street commissioner duties. We would have to set forth duties what a street commissioner would get.”

Struemph then asked if they should make an ordinance of duties before they appointed Coborn as street commissioner.

White, Jr. replied, “We already have the ordinance, it’s 115-020.”

Alderman Barb Howarth asked what the pay was and Struemph replied, “Whatever he was making before.”

White, Jr. advised the board that they would have to keep the pay separate as the marshal position makes $1,200 a year. White, Jr. continued, saying, “I feel he should get the marshal pay and what he was making before.”

White, Jr. was referring to Coborn’s pay as appointed chief of police. Coborn was originally hired during a special meeting held at 10 a.m. on Aug. 29, 2022, for a part-time officer position during closed session. At this same meeting, Alderman Jeanette Struemph made a motion to appoint Joe Turnbough as the chief of police with a salary of $25 per hour. The motion passed with all in favor. Turnbough resigned on Nov. 1, 2022, from his position. The board of aldermen held a special meeting on Nov. 18, 2022, where officials voted in closed session to appoint Coborn as chief of police.

White, Jr. read the duties from the Missouri State website, “Duties and responsibilities include formulating policies, managing daily operations, planning use of materials and human resources.”

Former Alderman James “Pudd” Mitchell, now Mayor Mitchell, asked about the job duties and White, Jr. said they had what was suggested on the state website.

Howarth made a motion that Coborn be appointed as street commissioner, with the same pay as his police salary. The motion passed with all in favor.

During the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on May 14, 2024, a little over a year later, the street commissioner position was dissolved with an all-in favor vote after Alderman Kevin Guffey made a motion to terminate it.

The recent vote displayed a change of opinion from Howarth and Struemph, both members of the 2023 board, along with Mitchell, who was serving as alderman at the time.

The Advocate shared the same questions to officials via text messages on June 2 that were largely ignored.

Questions were sent to City Treasurer Charro Reasor, Mitchell, Struemph and Howarth.

A message was sent to City Treasurer Charro Reasor on June 2, 2024, at approximately 3 p.m. requesting questions also be distributed to board members.

1. What was the purpose behind creating the office of street commissioner in 2023? Why was its creation important enough at the time to call for its inclusion in a special meeting? Can you give an example of when the duties of the street commissioner were first performed (for previous board members)?

2. I can find no record of any duties outlined for the office of street commissioner, were any created? If so, what was the date, and who compiled them? If they were created, did the board of aldermen review and approve them? How much did the street commissioner position pay?

3. What made you in favor of dissolving the street commissioner position? Can you give examples of when the duties of the street commissioner were last performed?

4. Will the board confirm with its former city attorney Amanda Grellner that she had been consulted about the creation of the street commissioner position and what her advice on the topic was?

The board was informed the article was scheduled to be printed on June 12, however, if they needed more time to answer the questions to contact the reporter.

Guffey responded, via text, on June 2, “I can’t answer many of these questions as I was not on the council at the time. Also, we have asked Jerry if he would like to discuss with the full council before it goes into effect. I believe he is trying to find a time to do it when everyone can be available. This is an employee to council situation and will be discussed in closed session until resolved. We will inform the paper once resolved with final details. However at this time I think it would be a disservice to Jerry and disrespectful to him as well.”

Mitchell responded on June 3 via text message, “Hey Edward I got your message I’m working on the questions you (sent) when I get it done I will let you know.”

Struemph did not respond but a technology verification that the message was delivered and read was received on June 2 in the afternoon.

Alderman Steve Vogt did not respond.

The Advocate requested that Reasor forward the questions to Howarth. No response was received from aldermen concerning these inquiries.

On June 10, Mitchell confirmed that he had been in contact with Grellner and that she told him she discussed the street commissioner position with White, Jr. Mitchell did not confirm that Gellner “would be able to defend it if it was contested.”

However, Mitchell informed The Advocate that Grellner said 81.040 was the state statute the appointment falls under.

The Revised Statutes of Missouri (RSMo) 81.040 Street and sidewalk commissioner (special charter cities under 10,000) reads, “The council of any such city or town mentioned in section 88.804 may provide by ordinance for the appointment by the council of a street and sidewalk commissioner, which may be made by ordinance a separate office, and he shall give bond as such for the faithful discharge of such duties as the council may by ordinance or entry of record prescribe, and fix his compensation.”

During the April 24, 2023, special meeting, White, Jr., referred to ordinance 115.020 as what the street commissioner appointment falls under and what he spoke to Grellner about. This Missouri statute no longer exists; it was repealed in 2019.

Though the statute is no longer in effect, the official Belle City Code still has a Section 115.020 that covers appointive officers. This section, like most if not all sections, was created using the RSMo’s to align with state laws. A copy of the section was given to The Advocate and it reads much differently than 81.040.

RSMo 115.020 stated, “The mayor, with the consent and approval of the majority of the members of the board of aldermen, shall have power to appoint a city treasurer, city attorney, city collector, city assessor, street commissioner and night watchman and such other officers as he/she may be authorized by ordinance to appoint, and if deemed for the best interests of the city, the mayor and board of aldermen may, by ordinance, employ special counsel to represent the city, either in a case of a vacancy in the office of city attorney or to assist the city attorney, and pay reasonable compensation therefor, and the person elected marshal may be appointed to and hold the office of street commissioner.”

Once the appointment was approved, no further effort was made by the board to create an ordinance that outlined the duties or set the salary of the street commissioner position, which is required by state law.

RSMo 79.290 reads, “The duties, powers and privileges of officers of every character in any way connected with the city government, not herein defined, shall be prescribed by ordinance. And bonds may be required of any such officers for faithfulness in office in all respects.”

The previous board, it appears, created a position using an ordinance that was based on a repealed state statute, did not outline any duties for the street commissioner, did not set the street commissioner’s pay by ordinance, and performed no oversight on the street commissioner’s activity.