A former member of the Jefferson County Parks Board has filed suit against the Jefferson County Council after it voted to buy a 1.06-acre piece of property to expand the High Ridge Civic Center.
Linda Schroeder of Byrnes Mill filed the suit June 27 in Jefferson County Circuit Court opposing the council’s decision to spend $43,000 to buy the vacant piece of land next to the Civic Center, 2800 Horrell Lane, which is part of the county’s parks system.
Schroeder, a longtime member of the county’s Parks Board, which governs Jefferson County Parks and Recreation Department activities, resigned in protest of the purchase and spoke against it at council meetings leading up to the purchase, approved by the council on Jan. 28, and a budget adjustment to pay for the property, approved on Feb. 25.
The suit names all seven members of the County Council as defendants but alleges that Councilman Brian Haskins (District 1, High Ridge) “breached his fiduciary duty” to his constituents and calls for his removal from office.
Haskins said he had no comment about the lawsuit.
The suit alleges that “taxpayers were harmed” by the land purchase and that the purchase price of the land “should be reimbursed to the taxpayers.”
Assistant Jefferson County Counselor Jason Cordes filed a motion to dismiss the case. A hearing on that has been scheduled for Sept. 17.
Schroeder is being represented by Hillsboro attorneys Allison Sweeney and Robert Sweeney.
After Div. 1 Circuit Judge Joe Rathert recused himself from hearing the case, it was assigned to a special judge – retired Circuit Judge Mark Stoll, who decided last year against filing for a third six-year term as the Div. 4 Circuit judge in Jefferson County’s 23rd Circuit.
In the suit, Schroeder alleges that Haskins and the previous owner of the property, Daniel Lakin (referred to in the suit as a Mr. Larkin) of LLASS LLC, requested that the county order an appraisal of the 1.06-acre lot, and that Haskins and Lakin had “a personal relationship.”
The appraisal concluded that the property was worth $43,000, which was $13,000 more than an earlier appraisal received by the Parks Board.
According to the suit, Haskins did not “properly disclose his relationship” with the seller.
In his motion to dismiss the case, Cordes countered that even though the suit names all seven council members as defendants, Schroeder is only seeking action against Haskins.
“This suggests that (Schroeder) is not proceeding out of a sense that any decision by the County Council to purchase the property was a mistake, but rather that (Schroeder) is proceeding on a personal vendetta against (Haskins)” and (it) “is an angry and unwarranted attack” against Haskins, Cordes wrote.
In asking for the dismissal, Cordes wrote that Schroeder’s petition does not specify how Haskins might have breached any fiduciary duty and does not offer how taxpayers were harmed.
Further, he wrote, Schroeder’s filing does not specify how, if taxpayers were harmed, they would be repaid.
“How many taxpayers are there in the county? Does each taxpayer get an equal cut of the purchase amount? Do taxpayers who are in arrears on taxes still get a cut?” he wrote.
On the question of whether Haskins should be removed from office, Cordes wrote that the county charter does not provide for the removal of any officeholder found to have breached a specific fiduciary duty and alleges that Schroeder does not have the “standing, authority or qualification to proceed … to seek removal of a public officer from his office.”
Schroeder’s suit also alleges that the county did not provide public documents to her in a timely manner under the Sunshine Law, or open records and meetings law, in an effort to “hide certain documentation” before it agreed to buy the property.
In the suit, Schroeder asserted that her attorney at the time, Lester Hubbel of St. Louis, had filed a request for documents regarding the property transaction on Feb. 5 but did not receive a response until Feb. 15, although the Sunshine Law requires a response within three business days.
The suit also notes that Hubbel followed up with requests on Feb. 13 and Feb. 15.
However, in his motion to dismiss the case, Cordes alleged that the letter Hubbel sent was not addressed to anyone in particular, but only to “Jefferson County Missouri” at 729 Maple St. in Hillsboro, the address for the County Administration Center.
According to the motion, Cordes received the request on Feb. 14 and wrote Hubbel the next day that it would take 14 days for the county to fulfill his request, and it complied with the request a day early.
Cordes further notes that Hubbel, in his correspondence to the county, never informed the county that he was seeking information on Schroeder’s behalf, so she also does not have the standing to file suit against the county.
In the suit, Schroeder is seeking $1,000 for each “knowing” violation of the Sunshine Law and $5,000 for each “purposeful” violation, plus attorney’s fees.
The suit does not make clear how violations of each type allegedly occurred.