From the Platte County Prosecutors Office:
The mayor of Tracy, Mo. was removed from office July 13 after a trial in the Platte County Circuit Court.
Rita A. Rhoads had served as mayor of the small Platte County town since 2008. Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd filed a lawsuit on July 9 to remove Rhoads from office for violating the Constitution’s ban on nepotism.
In a post-trial statement, Zahnd said, "Missourians were so concerned about preventing public corruption that they banned nepotism without exception when they adopted the Constitution in 1945. Today's decision reaffirms that public officials cannot use their office to enrich family members, regardless of whether it is for $100 or $100,000."
The evidence at trial showed that the Tracy mayor agreed to pay $100 to her son-in-law to fix a city sign despite knowing that the law prohibited her from hiring him to do the work for the city. The sign still has not been replaced.
A witness testified that Rhoads said she didn’t care and that “they need the money” referring to her daughter and son-in-law.
The State proved that the mayor and her son-in-law pushed an invoice through a city council meeting purporting to pay a non-existent business rather than the son-in-law directly.
Rhoads claimed that she did not try to cover-up who was receiving the money even though it was undisputed that she approved an invoice to a defunct business her son-in-law used to have. After the son-in-law could not cash the check, Rhoads admitted she hand wrote a second check payable to him personally rather than to his non-existent business.
During trial, a witness testified that there had been other problems with Rhoads acting beyond her mayoral authority.
Judge Owens Lee Hull, Jr. found that Rhoads had violated the Missouri Constitution and removed her from office. Judge Hull pointed out that Missouri’s ban on nepotism can be draconian, but that the Court could not amend or change it.
The defense argued that Rhoads was basically the chief executive officer of the city and that she was entitled to contract with her son-in-law to do public work. The defense conceded that the amount of money the city paid to the mayor’s son-in-law did not matter.
"The evidence at trial showed that Ms. Rhoads hired her son-in-law, even though she knew it was wrong. Under those circumstances, it is even more important to ensure that the Constitution's absolute ban on nepotism is enforced," Zahnd said.
The Missouri Constitution provides that “any public officer . . . [who] appoints to public office or employment any relative . . . shall thereby forfeit his office.”