Land Use and the Law: Conflicts of Interest
Most city officials serve because they are committed to public service and seek to improve or protect their neighborhoods and the broader community. Do city officials forfeit their right to speak out on, to participate in discussions or deliberations about, or to vote on matters in which they have a personal or economic interest? When a zoning issue comes before the city that would directly affect themselves or their immediate neighborhood, are they prohibited from acting on it?
CHECK YOUR CITY'S CHARTER OR CODE!
This section only addresses a number of Missouri statutes regulating conflicts of interest, §§ 105.450 - 105.498, R.S.Mo. Many cities' codes of ordinances or charters contain a code of ethics or other provisions that provide guidance on when city officials may or should not participate in deliberations or votes on matters in which they have a personal or pecuniary interest. A city's provisions on conflicts of interest may be more stringent than those provided in the Missouri statutes.
A member of a city council or board of aldermen who has a personal or economic interest in any ordinance or other measure proposed or pending before the city is not automatically foreclosed from participating in the discussions or voting on the matter. See § 105.461, R.S.Mo. However, he or she may only participate in the matter after filing a written report on the nature of the interest with the city clerk that is recorded in the minutes of the city council or board of aldermen. § 105.461, R.S.Mo. Whether he or she may participate or vote on the matter depends on the nature and extent of the interest involved, and the specific circumstances of a particular case. One clear rule, however, is that he or she may not participate in discussions or vote on particular zoning regulations or plans that would result in a direct financial gain or loss to him or her. § 105.462(l), R.S.Mo.
Furthermore, whether or not a city official participates or votes on a matter before the city, he or she is free to attempt to influence others about a zoning regulation or plan proposed or pending before the city, provided he or she cannot receive any form of compensation for doing so. § 105.462(2), R.S.Mo.
BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT
A member of a board of zoning adjustment, which is a quasi-judicial body, generally cannot participate in a matter before the board if he or she knows that one of the parties is related by family or money. § 105.464, R.S.Mo. When a board member determines he or she should be disqualified, he or she should do so as soon as possible, so as to avoid prejudice to the city or the parties.
The family relationships of a party to a board member that would require that the board member refrain from participating in a case before the board are listed in § 105.464, R.S.Mo. The list is broad, including spouses, former spouses, children, stepchildren, foster children, wards, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, parents, step or foster parents, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. § 105.464(1), R.S.Mo.
If a board member has an ownership or other proprietary interest in any firm or corporation appearing before the board, he or she should disqualify him or her self and refrain from participating in the deliberations or the vote on the matter. Id.
If a party is a trust in which a board member has a legal, equitable or beneficial interest, he or she should not participate. Id.
If a member of a board of zoning adjustment knows that the subject matter of a case before the board is such that he or she would receive a direct financial gain from any potential result of the proceeding, he or she must disqualify him or her self, and may not participate in the deliberations or the vote. § 105.464(2), R.S.Mo.
There are criminal penalties for knowing violation of §§ 105.450 - 105.498, R.S.Mo. The first offense is a class B misdemeanor. §105.478, R.S.Mo. Second and subsequent offenses are Class D felonies. Id
Mary B. Schultz is a partner in the law firm of Schultz & Associates LLP,
www.sl-lawyers.com, 640 Cepi Dr., Suite A; Chesterfield (St. Louis), Missouri 63005, (636) 537-4645. Mary B. Schultz graduated from Northwestern University Law School more than 30 years ago, in 1985, and has been practicing primarily in Missouri ever since. Mary B. Schultz is admitted to practice in Missouri and Illinois. Schultz & Associates LLP is an affiliate member of the Municipal League of Metropolitan St. Louis.
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