The final reading to vote on a 76 Project has been postponed two meetings in a row (Dec. 10 and Jan. 14).
The first phase of the 76 Project, moving the currently overhead utility lines underground from Presley’s Theater to the Branson Ferris Wheel property, has been a tough topic for the city of Branson. In addition to the two postponements, the issue has failed several other times despite three votes in favor and two votes against. The lack of a third ‘no’ vote – either due to an absence or an abstained vote – meant the mayor was unable to provide a tie-breaker for the necessary fourth vote.
Even though this project has been a long-awaited move for many of the current businesses along 76 Country Boulevard, those businesses will have to hold on a little bit longer. This time, it’s because an aldermen said one of his business clients had asked him to change his position on the issue.
After the bill was read by City Clerk Lisa Westfall, Alderman Kevin McConnell – one of the aldermen who has consistently opposed the bill – opened with the following statement:
“Mayor, I’ve recently been asked by at least one client to change my vote on undergrounding utilities,” said McConnell. “I do indeed have a conflict. If I change my vote to satisfy a client, it’s going to protect my business, but it’s in opposition of what I deeply believe. If I don’t change my vote, I believe it will hurt my business.”
Recently, city officials concluded Akers has the right to change an abstained vote to a ‘no’ vote, unless the alderman is abstaining due to a conflict of interest.
“This is a conflict in the truest sense of the word,” McConnell continued. “Due to the obvious financial conflict of interest, I will be recusing myself, not abstaining, but recusing myself from any further discussion, or voting on this measure.”
McConnell then left the room.
Mayor Edd Akers responded.
“Obviously, at this time it would be a decision in regard to whether all of us have people who seek to influence us and make us change our decisions,” said Akers. “It appears I have a decision to make in regards
to whether I accept the abstention, or the excuse.”
Westfall then announced that McConnell had been marked absent until his return, to which the Mayor responded, “Then I will think that we will wait until Alderman McConnell comes back. I will seek to get him back.”
Akers then left the room in search of McConnell. Alderman Bob Simmons then took over the meeting, due to the Mayor’s absence, and suggested the meeting take a five-minute recess.
Upon arrival from the five minute recess, Alderman McConnell was still absent, so Alderman Bill Skains motioned to postpone the bill until a full board can vote on the issue.
Aldermen Larry Milton and Rick Castillon voted ‘no’ to the motion to postpone the bill, but it passed with ‘yes’ votes by Aldermen Brian Clonts, Bob Simmons and Bill Skains. The next scheduled Board of Aldermen meeting is Jan. 28.