A Branson alderman and the city administrator both agree the FBI has looked into city business recently, but the two greatly disagree on the purpose of any potential investigation.
Alderman Kevin McConnell claims the FBI visit was intended to pressure him into changing a vote. City Administrator Stan Dobbins said it was to see whether an outside individual is illegally trying to change a vote.
Alderman Kevin McConnell said in a letter submitted Wednesday to the Branson Tri-Lakes News that City Administrator Stan Dobbins had an FBI agent visit him “to interrogate and pressure me to ‘re-think’ recusing myself from voting” on an issue to bury underground cables along 76 Country Boulevard.
McConnell said the agent told him his dilemma was “a textbook reason” to recuse oneself from a vote.
In an interview Thursday, Dobbins said he did call the FBI. Dobbins, however, said it was because McConnell had stated in an open meeting in January that he was abstaining from voting on an issue because a client of his wanted him to vote in favor of the issue.
“I contacted an agent to look into it and see if (McConnell is) being extorted,” Dobbins said.
Branson Tri-Lakes News reporter called the agent who spoke to McConnell, but the agent directed the reporter to Public Affairs Specialist Bridget Patton at the FBI field office in Kansas City.
“We would not comment on a statement the alderman made,” Patton said.
In an interview, McConnell said the agent visited him as his place of business and told him he was looking into an issue.
“He said he was concerned someone might be pressuring (McConnell) to vote a certain way,” McConnell said.
McConnell said Dobbins’ statement that he called the FBI to help protect McConnell was “dishonest.” He said he claimed he felt threatened by the client.
“It’s completely dishonest to suggest there was any other reason to send an FBI agent except to change my vote,” McConnell said.
McConnell added a follow-up comment in an email: “If our City Administrator was so concerned about my being threatened to vote a certain way, why wouldn’t he simply ask me if I was being threatened?”
On Friday, Dobbins issued the following statement by email:
During the January 14, 2020, City of Branson Board of Alderman meeting, Bill #5732, an ordinance amending the adopted 2019 budget for the City of Branson to adjust monies for the tourism and capital projects funds, Alderman Kevin McConnell stated he had a conflict of interest and didn’t vote on the bill due to a threat from a client to withhold business if he voted.
This can be found at approximately 56:48 in the recording of that meeting, which can be found on the City’s website, here: https://www.bransonmo.gov/DocumentCenter/View/12078/BOAAUDIO01152020
The exact quote is as follows:
“Mayor, I have a point of order here. I’ve recently been asked by at least one client to change my vote on undergrounding utilities. 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,” said Alderman McConnell.
At that time, it appeared that Alderman McConnell was the potential victim of a criminal offense affecting government operations. As usual, to avoid a conflict of interest or any appearance of impropriety, the City called an outside agency, in this case the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to inform them of the potential crime.
Once the potential crime against Alderman McConnell was reported to the FBI, the City has had no further communications about this incident with the agency.
Burying cables along 76 Country Boulevard is part of a larger project to revitalize the street. Construction was halted several years ago due to a lack of funds. Several months ago, city officials chose to bury the cables after paying off a bond early, freeing up $1.5 million for the $1.9 million project, according to Dobbins.
The issue revealed a deep divide among the city’s elected officials, with McConnell one of three aldermen opposing the issue when it came up for a vote several times last year. The issue might have been decided with a tie-breaking vote from Mayor Edd Akers, but due to absences from some of the aldermen, there was never an opportunity for the mayor to cast a final tie-breaking vote. Then McConnell declared at the Jan. 14 meeting that he would have to recuse himself from voting on that issue.
This issue may ultimately be resolved in June if the aldermen approve the expansion of a 76 Community Improvement District that would provide more funds for the project.
Background on this story
On Wednesday, McConnell submitted a letter to the editor that brought up his visit from an FBI agent. However, the letter also contained criticism of an individual running in the June 2 municipal election. Because the Branson Tri-Lakes News policy is to not publish letters of a political nature received within two weeks of the election, the paper chose not to publish it. McConnell responded by sending an edited letter, but it still did not pass the paper’s pre-election policy. A reporter then began fact-checking the letter either for inclusion after the election or for a potential news story.
On Friday, the letter appeared in another publication and was being shared on social media. Therefore, the Branson Tri-Lakes News chose to publish this story after getting more comments from McConnell and Dobbins. The original letter from McConnell is below. However, the final portion has been removed because it violates the paper's policy on campaign letters within two weeks of an election.
A simple question to our Citizens:
Do we want our Government to report to us or do we want to report to them?
Several months ago, the Board of Aldermen had some disagreements about whether or not to spend ~$2M to underground utilities on Highway 76.
I, as well as Alderman Castillon and Alderman Milton did NOT feel it was a good use of our resources until AFTER we finalized the entire 76 CID, (which would increase tax revenue by over $4.5 Million per year.) I ultimately recused myself as I was being asked to vote in conflict with my conscience by several clients, which is a textbook reason to recuse.
However, the Mayor, City Administrator and Alderman Bill Skains felt differently. At various points all three questioned my motives for being against the measure and ultimately recusing myself with a conflict of interest.
One very specific way this disagreement manifest itself was the fact that I received a visit at my place of employment from the FBI! Yes, that’s right, Agent Bob Schafer from the Federal Bureau of Investigations paid me a visit to inquire as to why I voted against and then recused myself from voting on undergrounding of utilities. Now, you might find it interesting that Agent Schaefer admitted to me that our City Administrator, Stan Dobbins asked him to talk with me to see why I initially voted against the measure. Also, of interest is that Agent Schaefer is a Special Agent who focuses on government corruption…. Was I considered “corrupt” because I dare not vote for something City Staff wanted to do?
Needless to say, I was shocked that our City Administrator would send the FBI to my office to interrogate and pressure me to “re-think” recusing myself from voting.
As it turned out, the Agent agreed that I had a “classic conflict of interest” demanding that I refrain from further votes on undergrounding!