The Springfield City Council put an end to an ethics investigation into Councilwoman Jan Fisk after months of delayed hearings and an estimated $117,000 in legal costs.
At its Monday meeting, council voted 8-0 to repeal a resolution requiring a special judge to evaluate accusations Fisk violated city law when she
- failed to file a complete personal financial interest form as required by city code and
- violated ethics laws when a Kansas City-based limousine company was awarded a city contract and outsourced work to Fisk Transportation LLC while she was on council.
At council’s Nov. 2 meeting, Fisk announced she would file a more complete personal financial disclosure form and J. Howard Fisk Limousines Inc. would pay the city $3,453, which is “the amount someone could believe I or my family benefited” from her time on council, she said.
Her announcement came nearly two years after a resident filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) outlining various allegations of misconduct.
In February 2019, the MEC forwarded that complaint to council for review. More than a month later, council hired an outside attorney to review the allegations, which included a separate complaint Fisk failed to disclose an interest in her son’s rental properties before voting on ordinances related to rental properties, nuisances or zoning changes.
The attorney recommended withdrawing the rental property complaint but said the allegations about the city charter and financial disclosure violations merited more investigation.
Council then appointed a special judge to hear testimony and make written findings about the remaining accusations. The hearing was initially scheduled for March 20, but it was delayed several times.
In all, the process cost the city roughly $117,000 for attorney’s fees and the judge’s time, though that number is preliminary because the city has not received all the invoices, city spokeswoman Cora Scott said in a text message.
In statements before the vote Monday, council members lamented the length of the process and the cost.
Councilman Mike Schilling suggested the city take a look at how ethics violations are handled in light of the fact that Fisk’s complaint was the second over the past five years.
In 2016, the city spent a total of $96,389.66 on hearings and associated costs related to allegations that former Councilwoman Kristi Fulnecky was ineligible to take office due to unpaid business licenses. Council declined to take any action against her, though Fulnecky later resigned when she moved to Christian County.
“I think this brings to a head a need to take a look at our ethics ordinance,” Schilling said Monday. “It seems like we could have a more simplified process.”
Councilman Richard Ollis echoed that sentiment, saying the process was “inefficient.”
Despite those vows to change the process, council made no concrete finding about whether Fisk violated city law.
In its resolution, council made clear it did not “endorse the conduct of any person or party involved.”
But given the fact Fisk attempted to remedy the situation and the process had cost the city “both in money and in diverting attention from other critical public concerns,” they decided to repeal it.
Still, Springfield resident Linda Simkins, who filed the initial complaints with the MEC, said in an email the decision to repeal the resolution before it reached a hearing was evidence that council “failed their oath of office.”
“Per (city code), the hearing examiner is to issue written facts and conclusion of law,” she wrote. “By this dismissal, and with total lack of transparency, council prevented any such decision. … Decisions like this is what causes distrust of local government.”
Fisk, for her part, said she was pleased to put the investigation behind her. The nine-year councilwoman announced last year she would not run for another term after hers expires in April.
“I was very pleased that this came to an end,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “Two years is a long time for the city and for me to incur expenses, and I was pleased and so glad. I wanted to get this finalized before I left office.”
Katie Kull covers local government for the News-Leader. Got a story to tell? Give her a call at 417-408-1025 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.