No action taken to unseat alderman sworn into wrong ward

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 1/18/23

BELLE — A decision has yet to be made regarding a Belle Ward 1 resident who was sworn in to serve as Ward 2 Alderman.

Belle Mayor Daryl White, Jr., on Jan. 10 was informed that his pick for …

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No action taken to unseat alderman sworn into wrong ward

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BELLE — A decision has yet to be made regarding a Belle Ward 1 resident who was sworn in to serve as Ward 2 Alderman.

Belle Mayor Daryl White, Jr., on Jan. 10 was informed that his pick for Ward 2 alderman to replace former representative Kayla Bray lives in Ward 1 and cannot represent those constituents on the other side of the line.

James (Pud) Mitchell, who is running for Ward 2 alderman in April, asked the board during visitor discussion where the ward lines are located. After a brief conversation, he informed the board that the person they appointed to replace Bray lives on the wrong side of the line to be representing that ward’s constituents.

“Where is the boundaries for Ward 1 and Ward 2?” Mitchell asked.

Alderman Barb Howarth said Ward 2 runs right on First Street in Osage County. Alderman Jeanette Struemph said it is her understanding that Ward 2 starts at the railroad tracks.

“It kind of veers off when you get up Johnson in there,” Struemph said.

Mitchell informed the board where the lines are located.

“This side of Johnson, over to the tracks and all the way down through here is ward one,” Mitchell said.

The board agreed.

“We are getting ready to appoint an alderman that lives in Ward 1, not Ward 2,”  Mitchell said.

“Getting ready to?” White asked Mitchell.

White swore Gina Tegart into office during the Dec. 21 Christmas party. Her Oath of Office paperwork was signed by White. However, many members of the public were unaware the oath had already taken place.

“That is the motion you made at the last meeting,” Mitchell said. “You are getting ready to appoint Gina (Tegart).”

Tegart was sitting in the Ward 2 aldermen chair. She asked if they were talking about her.

“I am in the wrong ward?” Tegart asked.

“I thought it went up Third Street,” White said.

Mitchell said the city moved the lines several years ago. County Clerk Rhonda Rodgers confirmed the ward lines were moved in 2012.

“We moved the lines, and the reason we did was to even the votes out,” Mitchell said. “It’s been a few years back. Everything on the west side of Johnson is Ward 2 — everything on the south side of the tracks is Ward 2. The tracks divide it. I didn’t know if you knew that.”

White said he didn’t know that. Public Works Director Tony Baretich offered to retrieve a map from city hall that shows the wards.

“We don’t need it tonight,” White said. “We’ll look into it.”

Delmar Branson said Mitchell was correct.

“It is stated in city government, and what Pud said is correct. That’s Ward 2, Johnson is the dividing street,” Branson said. “Anything west of that is Ward 2.”

Tegart, who resides in the 300 block of Oak Avenue, said she thought she was in Ward 2 and Alderman Adam Padgett said he is in Ward 2 and thought Tegart was as well.

“I thought Ward 2 came all the way down Johnson and towards the MFA building,” Padgett said.

White said on Jan. 12 that Tegart was still sworn into the office and had not stepped down. When asked why the city didn’t take immediate action, he said he doesn’t make quick decisions in a board meeting based on one person’s opinion.

“This is something we are going to handle in the next couple of days,” White said. “We have two maps we are going to look at.”

The situation was still unresolved Monday. Alderman Adam Padgett confirmed the board is trying to set up a time to meet with Tegart. She is still a sitting alderman.

White said there were three or four people who signed up at City Hall for the alderman seat.

“I just went down through the list and she was the option I picked for certain reasons,” said White.

White said the other people who signed up were all running for the seat in April and he didn’t want the board to endorse one person over another.

“I am obviously going to look into everything before I make a rash decision,” White said around 3:10 p.m. last Thursday. “Not being a full-time mayor, I have a business to run too. We are not going to make any rash decisions without researching it. Before the paper comes out something will be handled with it.”

White said he was hoping to have more time to look into the issue on Jan. 13 before the weekend.

“I don’t feel like we’ve done anything wrong,” he said. “We asked for people to come to sign up and they did and we didn’t ask (what ward they live in). It used to be the line was from the four-way stop passed the school. If you were on one side of the school it was one ward and on the other side of the road was the other ward. It was that way for 80 years and I was not aware it had changed until the other night.”

White also said Tegart’s voter registration card had Tegart as a Ward 2 resident.

“Her registration card said she was in the right ward,” White said. “I guess it was messed up.”

Voter registration is a public record. According to the county clerk, Tegart is registered as a Ward 1 voter.

“If there was a mistake made, obviously we are gonna to correct it,” White said.

When asked what the city’s next move should be, Missouri Municipal League’s (MML) Stuart Haynes, director of administration and policy, said that they would follow Missouri State Statute in this case.

“We would suggest that they need to be a resident of the ward,” Haynes said, “Missouri RSMo 79.070 (states) they need to be a resident of the ward that they serve.”

According to RSMo 79.070, “​​Aldermen Qualifications: No person shall be an alderman unless he or she is at least eighteen years of age, a citizen of the United States, and an inhabitant and resident of the city for one year next preceding his or her election, and a resident, at the time he or she files and during the time he or she serves, of the ward from which he or she is elected.”

Haynes further explained that the way Tegart was sworn into the office, between meetings and not in front of the public, is not the traditional way that it is done, but it is ok.

“The statute just says all officers shall take an oath before the city clerk,” Haynes said. “It doesn’t specify when it should take place. Traditionally it can be done in a council meeting, but it is not required. Both for elected and appointed aldermen and elected.”

White swearing Tegart into office may also be circumspect.

“The state statute leans towards a clerk or a judge )swearing in elected officers),” Haynes said. “It says ‘a court of record.’”

Haynes cited RSMo 79.260, swearing in of officers.

According to 79.260, “Every officer of the city and his assistants, and every alderman, before entering upon the duties of his office, shall take and subscribe to an oath or affirmation before some court of record in the county, or the city clerk, that he possesses all the qualifications prescribed for his office by law; that he will support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri, the provisions of all laws of this state affecting cities of this class, and the ordinances of the city, and faithfully demean himself while in office; which official oath or affirmation shall be filed with the city clerk.”

Citizens questioned Tegart’s votes during the Jan. 10 meeting as well as her attendance in the subsequent closed session. Haynes said even though Tegart was sworn in to serve the wrong ward, she is still an officer of the seat for the moment.

“She is in office. They appointed her. She is still an officer,” Haynes said. “The closing of a meeting, who attends a closed session is completely up to the board. She is an officer. there are questions about her appointment, but I don’t see any issues with her attending a closed session.”

The Maries County Advocate contacted Alderman Padgett on Monday afternoon to see if any decisions had been made regarding Tegart and the Ward 2 seat.

“I believe that is something we have not met on yet,” Padgett said. “But we will have to meet on it and get it resolved. I don’t know where it is going to hit, but my first knowledge on it was the other night. It would not have been done at all and Daryl (White, Jr.) would not have nominated her at all if we had known.”

White contacted The Advocate at 2:23 p.m. on Tuesday.

“Because Gina is an appointed official, we will have to wait to have an open meeting before we can do anything,” White said. “We will probably have a special meeting around the first of next week.”

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