Rules for Missouri Fire Protection Districts
Parenthetical numbers in the text refer to sections of the current Revised Statutes of Missouri, abbreviated as RSMo.
In ordinary language, the conflict-of-interest (COI) law prohibits officials from doing business with themselves (105.450–466). It says officials may not be paid or receive anything of value for official actions, beyond the statutory salary. Nor may they use information gained in an official capacity to benefit them or another, or official acts to benefit spouse or children (105.452; 576.050). These rules cover elected officials and all public employees.
The prohibitions in the conflict-of-interest law not only cover the time a person serves in office or works for a public entity, but also extend for a year afterward. This “follow-on ban” covers actions that could influence decisions of the FPD, or dealing in a business with any matter that came before the FPD while the person was in office or working there.
Working for or renting to the FPD
The law limits any paid work for the FPD by an appointed official to $500 per transaction and $5,000 per year beyond the official’s regular salary. Rent, sale or lease of property is limited to the same amounts (105.454).
An exception is provided when a competitive bid is taken and the official’s bid is lowest (105.454). Board members are prohibited from working for the FPD for pay, but may sell, rent or lease within dollar limits upon lowest bid. However, note that in this exception, the language is not the “lowest and best” but the absolute low-dollar bid (lowest bid means that there were at least three bids, because if only two bids were required, the word lower would have been used in the statute instead of lowest). Keep in mind that the dollar limit is firm, regardless of circumstances. Above $5,000, any official’s work is unpaid, period. Also keep in mind that if a bid is considered, the official submitting the bid must not vote. Because members have a duty to vote, abstention should be authorized by motion of the remainder of the board.
Officials’ business interest
The law likewise limits businesses with which an official or an official’s family members are affiliated to the $500 per transaction and $5,000 per year maximum. Having substantial interest in a business is defined as the official or family member owning 10% or more, having an interest worth $10,000 or more, or drawing $5,000 or more annual salary (105.450). For example, if the board president’s spouse works at a local restaurant and is paid over $5,000 per year, the president has a substantial interest in that restaurant, and the FPD annual training dinner should be held somewhere else.
The first conviction for violating the conflict-of-interest law is a Class B misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine (105.478). Every additional offense is a Class D felony, with a maximum punishment of seven years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine (105.478).
There are other offenses that can get FPD officials in trouble, including bribery (576.010); acceding to corruption (576.020); obstructing government operations (576.030); and official misconduct (576.040).
There are also other offenses that, although not illegal, may get you convicted in the court of public opinion. Flying in fresh lobster and caviar for that annual training dinner might get you in the same hot water as the lobster! And don’t forget the unwritten law of being frugal with public money — how much chrome is needed on that new fire truck?
Officials and director candidates of an FPD that has a budget of $1 million or more are required to fill out the Financial Disclosure Statement for Political Subdivisions form and file it with the Missouri Ethics Commission, unless the FPD biennially adopts an ordinance, order or resolution by Sept. 15 of the preceding year to establish its own public method of disclosure that fulfills the law (105.483). A certified copy of the ordinance, order or resolution must be sent to the Missouri Ethics Commission within ten days of its adoption.
For FPDs that have a budget of $1 million or more and do not have their own public method of disclosure, the law prescribes filing deadlines (105.487):
- Candidates: no later than 14 days of filing for election;
- Officials: within 30 days of initial election, appointment, or employment; and
- Officials: annually by 5 p.m. on May 1; however, only one statement per year.
The penalties for failing to disclose, or untimely disclosure, can be expensive and can lead to removal from the ballot or removal or suspension from office (105.492; 105.963.3).