The regular Board of Aldermen meeting on Tuesday ended abruptly when two aldermen stood up and vacated their seats.
Ward ll Alderman Rick Castillon created a stir in the council chambers when he collected his belongings and walked out of the council chambers in response to Mayor Edd Akers declaring Castillon’s “abstain” vote be counted as a “no” vote. Therefore, creating a tied vote to adjust monies for the Tourism and Capital Projects Funds to bury utilities from Presley’s Theater to the Branson Ferris Wheel property.
Akers, who was then able to make a tie-breaking vote, then voted ‘yes’ to pass the bill.
This bill has officially been brought before the Aldermen seven times and has failed to pass it’s final reading multiple times due to the need of four ‘yes’ votes by the aldermen. Three of the Aldermen, along with the mayor, have shown unwavering support for this project.
During discussion after the passing of the bill, Ward ll Alderman Larry Milton, who voted against the bill, stood up and left his seat vacant as well.
This caused the meeting to come to an abrupt halt due to the lack of quorum and being unable to vote on anything further.
These events took place after the public comment section at the beginning of the meeting, when Akers announced he would count abstentions as ‘no’ votes.
“I’ve learned a lot in the first eight months of serving here as mayor of the city of Branson,” Akers said. “I’m trying to learn exactly what some of my responsibilities are. What I’m about to share with you is what I believe my responsibilities are, and I would like to read those to you.
“It is my responsibility as mayor under state law to take care of the ordinances of our city and the state law regarding our city are complied with. Under one of our ordinances, Branson Municipal Code 264, I am tasked with the responsibility of being the presiding officer of the board, and I’m required to observe strict order and decorum at all meetings of the board. Decorum (is defined as) proprietary and good taste in conduct or appearance. One of the many definitions of order is the state of peace, freedom from confused or unruly behavior and respect for law and proper authority. Unfortunately, we’ve recently had a number of abstentions on votes without any proper basis for the abstention.
“The citizens of Branson elect us to make decisions on policy matters, and we must make those decisions by voting. We are obligated to vote unless a conflict of interest prevents us from doing so. The common law in the state of Missouri supports this. Although I cannot force any member of the board to cast a vote, and no member can be required to cast a vote, I do have the ability to control the order and decorum of these meetings. As a result, I’m announcing under my authority to preserve order and decorum for these meetings, that any abstentions by any member of this board during the meeting, or meetings in the future, will be recast as a ‘no’ vote.”
The announcement, was met with obvious disapproval from a few of the aldermen.
The consent agenda, which consists of items that previously passed their first reading at the last meeting, was then introduced and called for a vote. Electrical difficulties were found with the voting system, so a roll call vote was taken. Alderman Kevin McConnell voted to ‘abstain’ and ‘yes’ votes were given by Aldermen Brian Clonts and Bill Skains. Along with hesitant ‘yes’ votes from Aldermen Larry Milton and Rick Castillon. Alderman Bob Simmons recused himself from the vote due to a conflict of interest.
Castillon asked the city’s attorney if Akers was able to do what he had just announced.
“Is that legal, is that possible?” asked Castillon.
In a lengthy answer, City Attorney Chris Lebeck said the mayor does have that authority.
“So I understand what the Mayor just announced is that an abstention for the purposes of tonight’s hearing, on any vote, will be counted as a negative or a ‘no’ vote,” Lebeck said. “With that being said, under section 264, he does have the ability to control order and decorum of this hearing.
“Our case law says that the mayor cannot force anybody to vote, point No. 1. Point No. 2, it says that he doesn’t have the ability in fourth-class cities to count an abstention as an affirmative vote, so that’s pretty crystal clear. Under state law, he has the power to enforce the laws for the city, and he has the responsibility for the care of the city. Under that authority, the mayor has the ability, after a final vote on an ordinance, to declare that an abstention be recast as a ‘no’ vote. He has that ability. So to answer your question, alderman, he can do that, and I think he has that power under our municipal code as well as under state law as it relates to fourth-class municipalities.”
McConnell then suggested they update their digital voting devices to remove the abstain option.
Lebeck then said that, in order for the ‘abstain’ vote to be recast as a ‘no’ vote, the mayor is required to vocally declare that the abstain vote be recast as a no vote after the final vote is taken on an ordinance. Making it so not every abstention is automatically recast as a negative.
“My next question on that is, can we overrule, vote on that if we don’t want that to happen?” said Castillon.
Lebeck’s reply: “No, only the mayor or the presiding officer best equipped with the power of order of the quorum. If the mayor’s not here, then the presiding officer would be Alderman Simmons.”
Milton then asked, “how clear do you think that law is? Would it warrant getting a second opinion, because it just doesn’t sound right.”
The discussion then concluded with Lebeck stating, “What I will tell you is that in the limited research that I’ve done, is our Missouri Municipal League has published on this topic. I think we’re on good footing here. I think the Mayor is on good footing here by doing this. This is somewhat uncharted territory here, but there’s nothing that’s been done tonight that is improper by Missouri law.”
The next Board of Aldermen meeting will take place on Dec. 10 at 6 p.m.