Impeachments for Mayors & City Councils

Nov 5, 2013 by

Impeachments for Mayors & City Councils

Our system of government provides many checks and balances to ensure that no one individual can amass too much authority. One of those important checks allows a legislative body to impeach elected officials who may step outside their bounds. For city councils, they may occasionally be faced with mayor or alderman who continuously goes beyond their authority in taking actions on behalf of the city. Or they may have to deal with an elected official who disregards the law and is causing a disruption to the city operation.

It is clear that Missouri law provides only one method to remove a member of the Board of Alderman from office: Impeachment. RSMO § 79.240 allows the mayor, or a member of the Board of Aldermen, to be removed from office with the consent of two-thirds vote of all members of the board. The removal must be based upon “cause shown,” which Missouri courts have interpreted to include any legally sufficient ground or reason for the impeachment.[1] The reason should relate to, or effect, the administration of the office and be related to the rights and interests of the public. Such reasons could include an act of improperly performing his duty, exceeding his authority or failing to fulfill his responsibilities.[2]

Any process for impeachment should afford the mayor, or other official, notice of the allegations made against him and the opportunity to be heard. These are the basic due process rights that are protected by both our state and federal constitutions. Because of these requirements, the standard practice for impeaching an elected official includes two steps. First, the governing body adopts the Articles of Impeachment which outlines the accusations made against the offending official. Then, an impeachment hearing is scheduled. Both steps of this process would be open to the public under the Missouri Sunshine Law.

At the impeachment hearing, the agency’s attorney presents the case for impeachment to the governing body, while the official may be represented by private counsel. Witnesses and other evidence can be adduced in the same manner as would occur at a trial, and it is then up to the Board of Alderman to consider the impeachment evidence. At the conclusion of the evidence, the governing body votes upon the Articles of Impeachment. In the case of a municipality, a two-thirds vote is required upon at least one article to result in an impeachment. In the event an official is impeached, he or she may appeal the matter for review in circuit court.

Of course, the impeachment process can be an expensive burden upon the city, as well as an embarrassing affair for all those involved. Aldermen and mayors would do well to be cautioned against using impeachment in all but the most extreme circumstances. Although censures and formal reprimands have little actual force, they can often be effective in bringing a problem to the attention of others, and possibly, allowing the removal of an officer to be done through the next election, rather than an impeachment hearing.

[1] Boyer v. City of Potosi, 77 S.W.3d 62, 71 (Mo. App. E.D. 2002), citing Fitzgerald v. City of Maryland Heights, 796 S.W.2d 52, 56 (Mo. App. 1990).

[2] Id. See also McCallister v. Priest, 422 S.W.2d 650, 657 (Mo. banc 1968).

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