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Missouri Fire Districts Can Charge for Services

Posted by on Jul 31, 2013 in Local Government Concerns | 1 comment

Missouri Fire Districts Can Charge for Services

Missouri fire departments have long provided protection to their communities through stopping and preventing fires from damaging private and public property. In the recent decades, fire departments have also become essential responders to motor vehicle accidents many emergency medical calls where they can act as first responders. In modern fire departments, fighting fire is only one of a plethora of services the department provides to their citizens.

For decades, Missouri taxpayers have supported fire departments through tax levies that raised funds from the property-owning citizens of their communities. In 2005, the state legislature began allowing local fire districts to charge individuals who reside outside the district but receive the benefit of their services. For example, when someone from St. Louis is in a car accident in Glasgow, Missouri, the Glasgow Fire Department would be permitted to charge the insurance company for their services, just as the tow company or ambulance department would.

This authority helps give local fire departments an additional way to fund the many services they provide to their communities. For smaller communities with a limited tax base but many out-of-town travelers, this option helps share the cost of maintaining a high-quality fire service both for local citizens, and for those need their services while just passing through. And, in most cases, the cost would likely be borne by the insurance company as part of the cost of the accident.

The law requires that the Board of Directors for the fire district adopt an appropriate ordinance allowing for the collection of such fees. The statute provides reasonable limits to ensure districts do not overcharge out-of-town individuals, but it allows for the costs of responding to such emergencies to be shared by all who benefit.

Understanding Nepotism in Missouri Local Government

Posted by on Jun 13, 2013 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

Most people would agree that is often a bad idea to allow government officers to use their positions to promote family members. It smacks a little of the feudal monarchy and lordships that our Founding Fathers fled from to create our nation. And it risks violating the free market commitment to always work to find the best person for the job. For those reasons, the citizens of Missouri long ago placed a ban on all public officer from appointing family members to government positions.

In legalese, it’s called nepotism, and under Article Eight, Section Six of the Missouri Constitution, any public officer who appoints a relative immediately forfeits their office or position. The definition of relative extends to include first cousins and grand nephews, and reaches reaches to relationships created both by blood and by marriage. In some smaller communities, that definition of relative can sometimes put public officials at risk of violating the constitutional standard.

In the Summer of 2012, the Mayor of Tracy, Missouri faced a problem that eventually cost her the position of mayor. Tracy, Missouri is a small community, located north of Kansas City and having a population of only about 200 citizens. When the city’s wooden sign was damaged, Mayor Rita Rhoads hired her son-in-law as and independent contractor to repair the damage to the sign. When the work was completed, Mayor Rhoads wrote a check for $100.00 from the general revenue fund to pay him for his work. On June 4, 2013, the Missouri Court of Appeals determined that Mayor Rhoads had violated the state prohibition on nepotism, and she was removed from office.

In small towns throughout the state, mayors are often faced with the dilemma of hiring personnel from a limited pool of qualified candidates. To add to the concern, many small communities are heavily inter-related through either blood or marriage, increasing the risk that some of those qualified candidates may be excluded by the state’s constitutional law. Local government officials must constantly be conscious of the limitations on who they may or may not employ, as hiring someone in violation of the constitution will immediately cost them their hard-earned position.

Defining Alligators in Legalese: Writing Laws for the Everyday Citizen

Posted by on May 24, 2013 in Local Government Concerns | 0 comments

Defining Alligators in Legalese: Writing Laws for the Everyday Citizen

The Missouri Appeals Court announced that alligators are considered dangerous reptiles under the ordinances of the City of Columbia. The court carefully analyzed the city ordinance after the owner claimed that the way the law was written did not apply to alligators.

Courts often review laws to try to determine what the authors intended when they wrote the law. When looking at a state statute, the courts try to figure out what behavior the legislators wanted to control; likewise, when reviewing a city ordinance, the intent of the city council members must be considered. The same rules of interpretation apply to state statutes as they do to city ordinances, and the primary consideration is always the language used in the law.

Lawmakers do their best when they use language that is simple and easy to understand. After all, the most essential part of writing a new law is making sure the public can understand it. The protections of our Constitution require that our citizens be able to understand what the law means so that they can understand what behavior is being encouraged or prohibited. When a law is too confusing to inform the average citizen, a court may consider the law as violating the “due process” requirement of the Constitution.

Writing laws that are easy to understand is a difficult process. The process usually involves lawyers, who may be predisposed to using legalese or formal language that is hard to understand for the average citizen. Lawmakers, and the attorneys who assist them, must use special effort to keep laws easy to understand. They should do their best to use plain, common language to write laws that can easily be read and followed by the average person.

Public Works Week Celebrated by the City of Fayette

Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Local Government Concerns | 0 comments

Public Works Week Celebrated by the City of Fayette

When we think of the “government,” most of us think of politicians in Washington, DC who spend their time rubbing shoulders with high-paid lobbyists. But the vast majority of government work is done by individuals who spend their time building our roads, teaching our school children, or working on one of the millions of other services that better our everyday lives.

The City of Fayette recently issued a Proclamation supporting the public works efforts of their employees. A copy of this proclamation is provided below:

WHEREAS, public works infrastructure, facilities and services are of vital importance to the health, safety, economy and overall well-being of all our community; and

WHEREAS, such facilities and services could not be provided without the dedicated efforts of public works professionals, engineers and administrators, representing all levels of government, who are responsible for and must plan, design, construct, operate and maintain the public works facilities essential to serve our citizens; and

WHEREAS, the efficiency of the qualified and dedicated personnel who staff public works functions is materially influenced by the people’s attitude and understanding of the importance of the work they perform; and

WHEREAS, it is the public interest for the citizens, civil leaders and children to learn and understand the importance of vital public works programs such a drinking water, sanitary and storm sewers, streets and highways, public buildings and solid waste collection and disposal; and

WHEREAS, the year 2013 marks the 53rd annual National Public Works Week sponsored by the American Public Works Association;

NOW THEREFORE, I, Ken O’Brian, Mayor of the City of Fayette, do hereby proclaim the week of May 19-25, 2013 as PUBLIC WORKS WEEK in the City of Fayette, Missouri, and I call upon all citizens and civil leaders in this community to gain knowledge of, and maintain a progressive interest in, the public works needs and programs vital to our everyday lives. And, to recognize the daily contributions which public officials make to ensure our health, safety, comfort and quality of life.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused to be affixed the Seal of the City of Fayette, Missouri, this 21st day of May, 2013.

Signed: Mayor Kenneth O’Brian

Fugitive Dust in Rural Missouri

Posted by on May 18, 2013 in Agricultural & Farming Issues, Local Government Concerns | 0 comments

Fugitive Dust in Rural Missouri

Fugitive dust is a fancy name for a well-known problem. Dust particles that are produced by construction, demolition, farming or even from the surface of an unpaved roadway can be considered fugitive dust when they travel from one property to another. The EPA estimates that 25,000,000 tons of fugitive dust are produced in the United States each year, with about 10,000,000 of those tons coming from unpaved roads.

Fugitive dust can cause significant damage to mechanical equipment and electronic computer systems. It can also pose risks to individual health, particularly for those who are elderly, very young, or suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma. In severe cases, it can also damage plant growth and harm crops by reducing their ability to take in sunlight for energy.

The state Department of Natural Resources regulates the amounts of fugitive dust that can be produced in any given location. If too much dust is being released, DNR may require property owners to take certain steps to limit those dust amounts. These steps can range from applying water or even certain dust suppression chemicals to help regulate the fugitive dust.

The law also provides several exceptions for local governments and agricultural industries. Specifically, unpaved public roads are exempt from complying the with fugitive dust regulations, as are private driveways that are used only for residential purposes. Also, farmers engaged in tilling, planting or harvesting are exempt from the state limits.

Construction and demolition crews must be diligent about complying with the regulations on fugitive dust. Even those groups that are not required by law may wish to take steps to limit the dust to protect the residents of their communities from the potential harms of dust pollution. As with many forms of pollution, suppressing fugitive dust may take a little extra effort, but it can be well worth the return.

Celebrating Juror Appreciation Week

Posted by on May 3, 2013 in Local Government Concerns | 0 comments

Celebrating Juror Appreciation Week

Juries play an important role in our legal system. Our Founding Fathers understood that ordinary citizens are the best defense against a tyrannical government. The everyday people who make up our juries can protect us against overreaching by government officials who might abuse the court system.

Historically, juries were an essential check upon governmental authority that placed the power of the state at the hands of the People. Members of the jury came from the local area, ensuring they would uphold local values. Grand juries could refuse indictments for bogus charges, restraining otherwise unlimited prosecutorial discretion. And early American juries were even permitted to review the constitutionality of new laws in the same way judges do today.

Juries allow everyday citizens to participate in administering justice for their neighbors. By being part of the process, they can learn about their own legal rights and better understand our court system. And they ensure that some of the most important decisions made in the courtroom come from honest Americans with real-world understanding.

So, to all those who have taken time to serve as jurors, we extend our deepest thanks. We understand that your service takes time away from work or other projects, but we also know that your everyday wisdom brings fairness into our legal system. Quite simply, without you, we couldn’t have justice in our courtrooms.

There’s No Justice without U

Posted by on Apr 30, 2013 in Local Government Concerns | 0 comments

Missouri Courts are currently celebrating Juror Appreciation Week from Monday, April 29 through Friday, May 3. During the week, judges, lawyers and court clerks take the time to recognize the contributions of jurors to our legal system.

In 2012, more than 88,000 Missourians reported for jury duty in state courts alone. Others served on juries in the the federal system.

The right to present a case to a jury is a fundamental right guaranteed by the United State Constitution. It is as important to our country’s democracy as the right to free speech, the right to chose our own religion, and the right to vote. The Founding Fathers understood that ensuring cases would be decided by juries ensured that cases would be decided fairly and impartially.

This week, we take the time to recognize the sacrifices made by those who serve on our juries. They take time out of their busy work schedules and personal lives to ensure that justice is done in our courts. Their service guarantees the fundamental liberties of their fellow citizens.

So, to those who serve on our juries, we just wanted to say “Thank you.”

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It isn’t fair if you’re not here!

Good Fences make for Good Juries

Posted by on Apr 27, 2013 in Agricultural & Farming Issues | 0 comments

Good Fences make for Good Juries

After a two day trial in Gasconade County, a jury of twelve individuals determined that a local cattle farmer had appropriate fencing for his business. After the farmer’s cow broke through the fence and onto the highway, the plaintiff claimed that the farmer allowed his cattle “to run loose on the highway.” But the jury found otherwise.

Clifford Swanson sued farmer, David Lottman, in the Circuit Court of Gasconade County, demanding payment after Mr. Swanson’s pickup truck was totaled in a collision with Mr. Lottman’s cow. Mr. Swanson suffered shoulder, neck and back injuries from the collision. The cow did not survive. The central element of his claim was that Mr. Lottman was negligent in maintaining his fence.

As with any negligence claim in the State of Missouri, the jury must look for several specific factors. First, was there a duty by one party to protect the other. Missouri farmers have a duty to put up good fences to keep their livestock off the roadway, so the jury was left to determine whether Mr. Lottman fulfilled his duty to the public, and specifically, to Mr. Swanson.

But this particular jury understood that even when farmers do everything right, sometimes cows still knock down a perfectly good fence and wander into harm’s way. Because Mr. Lottman was able to present compelling evidence of the quality of his fences, he was able to avoid several tens of thousands of dollars in liability.

In this case, it seems that good fences make more than just good neighbors. They also make happy farmers.

Service Day at CMU

Posted by on Apr 18, 2013 in Local News & Events | 0 comments

Central Methodist University recently completed their annual Service Day! Between students, faculty & staff, nearly 700 people participated in the event, working on 25 official projects. Together, they donated over 2,000 hours of community service in a single day!

Way to go CMU!

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Bad News for Equal Justice in Missouri

Posted by on Apr 16, 2013 in Local Government Concerns | 0 comments

Chief Justice Teitelman recently stated that the new information on the Missouri justice system is not good news. The Missouri Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA) recently published a reporting finding an increase in the number of Missourians who need legal assistance but cannot find an attorney. Over the last several years, many middle class families have slipped into poverty, while Legal Services and pro bono agencies have decreased services. Families have found themselves dragged into poverty by unemployment, foreclosures and uninsured medical costs. Read the Missouri summary online at: http://www.mobar.org/esq/apr12/Access%20to%20Justice%20Report%20Highlights.pdf.

We must do more to challenge this threat to the integrity of our legal system. With so many basic civil rights relying upon the assistance of good legal services, everyone interested in justice should be concerned about the findings of this new report. For both lawyers and non-lawyers, judges and clerks, and even those who spend their lives trying to stay out of court, this crisis requires the collective attention of everyone who values our legal system. The more individuals who are poor become unable to “afford” legal assistance, the more our Missouri justice becomes a branded commodity for sale to those who can afford it. And that’s something that none of us can afford.