A Platte County judge ruled Friday that the mayor of Tracy, Mo., Rita Rhoads, violated the Missouri Constitution’s nepotism clause.
Ms. Rhoads was asked to forfeit her office immediately following the judgment Friday afternoon.
Testimony on both sides confirmed that the city of Tracy paid Matthew Spores, Ms. Rhoads’ son-in-law, for labor on a welcome sign that was hit by a drunk driver in the spring. During his judgment, Presiding Circuit Judge Lee Hull said that while these clauses may be draconian for small towns, the court did not have the power to change the law.
During her testimony, Ms. Rhoads said that she would often pick up trash and limbs and check in on residents during times of extreme heat. Ms. Rhoads has served for three terms since 2008 and was compensated $50 a month for her service. Three months ago, she was given a raise of $50.
“I don’t doubt for one minute what Ms. Rhoads said about her duties one bit,” Mr. Hull said.
Brett Kossen, a former mayor of Tracy, told the News-Press that he wasn’t aware of the hearing, but that Tracy operates on limited funding.
“You’re running on a shoe-string budget,” he said. “A lot of times, it costs a lot more to go through the bidding process than to hire somebody really quick. It costs money to run the ads and to get something little done.”
Mr. Kossen said that while he was mayor, he and others would do repair and maintenance work themselves.
“That’s what we got the $50 a month for,” he said.
All city officials were asked by Mr. Vanover if they had received nepotism training. All the witnesses testified they had not.
The state, represented by Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Joe Vanover, submitted evidence of check stubs and financial documents. Their first exhibit, the 1945 Webster Dictionary definition of “employment,” was the core of the case since the defense did not dispute that Ms. Rhoads compensated Mr. Spores $100 for work the sign.
Ms. Rhoads said the destroyed sign was built by local Girl Scouts. She also said in her testimony that she contacted other people to repair the sign, but those parties couldn’t take the job due to conflict in scheduling.
“The Girl Scouts were upset since it was knocked down,” Ms. Rhoads said.
Cindy Erich, a witness for the state, said the city’s attorney, Lisa Rehard, advised Ms. Rhoads that paying her son to repair the sign would be nepotism, but that Ms. Rhoads said she didn’t care.
“She said we couldn’t do anything about it until the check clears,” Ms. Erich said.
In cross examination, Keith Hicklin, Ms. Rhoads' attorney, asked if she had gone to Ms. Rehard for the expressed purpose of complaining about Ms. Rhoads.
“I wasn’t upset. I’ve never been a city clerk before. I wanted to understand how this works,” Ms. Erich said. “I didn’t complain to the city attorney. I wanted to educate myself.”
In the closing statements, the argument boiled down to the definition of “employment.” Mr. Hicklin argued that since Mr. Spores had not been appointed to office or hired in an official capacity that the Missouri Constitution’s nepotism clause didn’t apply. He asked for a dismissal on those grounds early on in the hearing, but was denied.
Mr. Vanover argued that since money and labor was exchanged, regardless of amount and intent, it was still in violation of the nepotism clause.