Money talks vs. talking money

May 16, 2014 

We’ve hit a new stratosphere in the local politics in Lee’s Summit – council members calling out their colleagues for campaign donations.

And with that, this group that has been together all of a few weeks has officially had one of the rockiest starts in memory.

District 3 Councilman Derek Holland fired his second shot in a few weeks at RED Development and the proposed Summit Place, openly questioning the $250 campaign contributions given to newly elected council members Diane Seif and Diane Forte from Jeff Haney, who works for RED.

Many remember Holland’s first shot, a column in this newspaper openly objecting to the Summit Place TIF and questioning the quality of tenants planned for that area.

The next shot or series of shots may come from fellow council members in response to Holland’s claims. So does he regret making an issue of such a small amount of money, given legally by a Lee’s Summit resident to a campaign of his choosing?

Holland says he is not comfortable with how things have started off with the new council.

“Honest to God, my anger is directed more toward RED Development. RED knew they were in the middle of this and making contributions,” he said.

Does he (or should he) worry about the combative nature it may bring?

“It may impact my ability to be an effective council person,” Holland admitted. “If I can’t have a relationship with two or three members of the council because I brought that issue up, it (hurts) my effectiveness.”

Holland himself is no stranger to netting campaign contributions that could easily be brought into question.

In 2012, Missouri State Rep. Mike Cierpiot’s campaign tossed him $500 – double the amount Haney gave to Seif or Forte.

And a personal injury attorney, Michael Ketchmark, gave him the biggest boost he could have netted – a $4,000 check to his total $10,000 in funds raised. Why would an attorney from outside Lee’s Summit possibly need to donate to Holland 40 percent of his campaign funds?

Interestingly enough, Holland’s rebuttal sounds a lot like that of Seif or Forte – Ketchmark is a friend and has a right to donate as he sees fit.

“Mike is a longtime friend of mine, from back in my political days, with me on some campaigns,” Holland said of Ketchmark, who he notes used to live in Lee’s Summit.

Holland defends his questioning, though, on the sheer proximity of Summit Place vote to the day of the contribution.

“I don’t suggest those contributions cause them to go one way or the other, but they give the appearance of impropriety,” Holland said.

Lee’s Summit political consultant and owner of Spectrum Strategies, Bill Brown, also donated $200 to Holland’s campaign back in 2012.

Holland used Brown’s contribution as an example of distance from an issue, specifically the Happy Valley project.

“If I got a contribution 30 days before from Bill Brown or Flip Short, I would recuse myself (from that vote),” Holland said.

Discussing political contributions, innocent as they may have been at the time, underscores the dangerous road sitting council members walk down when they start to question their colleagues on campaign finance.

If we thought past city councils had collegial issues in the past, those may be nothing compared to what’s ahead.

John Beaudoin is the publisher of the Lee’s Summit Journal. To comment, call 816-282-7001 or e-mail jbeaudoin@lsjournal.com.

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