In a letter read to the board at the regular Tuesday night meeting of the Board, Richardson made clear that the Board would not approve the recent CID Board elections due to conflicting interests between board members, the lack of outside audits and the poor public conduct of Hutsler. The aldermen approved sending the letter to the CID in a unanimous 6-0 vote.
Richardson leveled strong criticism at Hutsler’s well-known penchant for public confrontation and legal disputes.
“Consistent effective leadership is essential to [the CID’s] future success,” the letter went on to say. “Mr. Tom Hutsler is one of the nominees and has been on the CID since inception. Unfortunately, for all of Mr. Hutsler’s valuable contributions to our community, he has not consistently demonstrated the appropriate personal behavior and respectful treatment of others that is expected of our community leaders and CID Directors.”
The CID, a quasi-governmental agency founded in 2006 and funded by a one-percent sales tax on transactions in the historic downtown, is required by law to have their elections approved by the Board of Aldermen. This step in the process was largely seen as a “rubber stamp” until the CID came under scrutiny in 2008 after a series of articles in The Luminary alleged abuses of the Missouri open record laws and lack of adherence to the entity’s own bylaws. The Luminary protested the February 2009 election of the CID board to the Board of Aldermen due to these shortcomings, leading to a revote and the hiring of a legal counsel – Charles Renner of the law firm Husch Blackwell Sanders LLP, to oversee compliance ever since.
The CID has, however, continued to operate in a shade of gray.
Soon after the June 2006 election, which created the special tax district as a way to fund physical improvements, pay various expenses and aid marketing efforts the CID, led mostly by Hutsler and John Kuhns, quickly turned it into a granting agency. The main recipient of the granted funds has been the Main Street Parkville Association (MSPA) – a board featuring Hutsler, John and Carol Kuhns as primary directors. The CID’s first president, Angelo Gangail, was forced to resign his position after the restaurant he co-owned, “The Power Plant,” closed amid a lawsuit with Hutsler over Hutsler’s decision to demolish the building’s iconic smokestack. Hutsler claimed the smokestack was crumbling and he had no choice but to demolish it, despite four independent engineering firms assessments saying it could have been preserved, albeit at great cost.
Over the years, various downtown merchants have complained of lack of oversight and a lack of equity or fairness when it came to using the CID funds – about $100,000 last year -- objections that are usually quelled when the complaining business owner moves their business out of town. The Kuhns’ have claimed that they may get more in terms of exposure, but that this was mainly due to their volunteer work. Nonetheless, these were the sticking points in the letter sent by Richardson.
“Both the MSPA and [CID] are led by essentially the same very small group of people,” Richardson wrote. “It does not appear that all [CID] directors can be fully objective in evaluating MSPA grant requests when they are, in many cases, the same people that are requesting the grant on behalf of the MSPA.”
The letter also addressed the CID’s failure to not only obtain independent audits but Hutsler and Kuhns’ recent attempt to legislate them out of existence. The letter, referencing the CID’s legal counsel Charles Renner of the law firm Husch Blackwell Sanders LLPs claim that the by-laws referencing the audit were too confusing and would come at large expense. According to documents provided by the CID, the District has a little more than $100,000 in available funds.
“It strains credibility to claim that these same directors and all subsequent treasurers were unaware of, simply forgot, or did not understand a requirement that the directors themselves established,” Richardson wrote.
“Moreover, when the Board notified them of their error, they responded by simply acting to remove the independent audit requirement from the by-laws,” Richardson wrote. “This response portrays an inadequate commitment to proper governance on the part of Mr. Hutsler, Mr. John Kuhns, and possibly others. These are taxpayer funds and the by-laws were clear; an independent audit for each of the missing years is required and would be a very good idea for the foreseeable future years, even if the by-law requirements have now been altered.”
The letter acknowledged the “unfortunate situation” of having to decline other “outstanding nominees” due to CID appointment procedures. CID bylaws require up-or-down votes on entire slates of officers, who are elected to four-year terms. Richardson said the Board extended an olive branch to other nominees who were caught in the fray.
“The Board state our full support of Kathleen Fasone, Josh Brock, and Adam Eimer for CID Directors,” he wrote.
The letter ended by saying the Board “had done its part,” had looked after taxpayer funds and proved the Board would no longer "rubber stamp" CID activities requiring their approval.