III. Obtaining an Advisory Opinion
As a board member, you may ask for advice from the City Attorney's Office. Indeed, you are encouraged to ask for advice prior to acting or voting on any matter. You may even ask for advice prior to signing the certification on the last page of this handbook.
After receiving advice, you may decide that a situation still creates a perception that a state law or City ordinance is being violated. If you think this is the case, you may choose not to vote. Or, you may disclose something you feel should be known before voting.
Remember that public perceptions may become reality. Use common sense. If you doubt your ability to vote objectively in a certain situation, don't do it. If you are present at a closed meeting that should be open, leave.
A board member shall abstain from participating and voting on any matter where the board member has a conflict of interest. If there is no conflict of interest but there may be a perception of a conflict of interest, a board member may vote if the member has disclosed in the record the nature of the conflict, otherwise the board member should abstain.
An example might be if you are employed by a company that has some matter pending before the board upon which you serve. No legal conflict may exist if you are not an officer of the company and will not benefit financially by your action. You may still want to abstain to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest.
If you decide to vote, it might be wise to disclose publicly your situation before voting. Even if you abstain, you may want to disclose your situation in the course of discussing the matter.
Members of Boards are encouraged to support the decision of the Board but if they take a position against the Board's position, they should do so as a private citizen and identify themselves as a private citizen.
Board members should recognize that they will be perceived by many people as representing the Board in other civic activities. Board members are encouraged to recognize this situation, and if you feel it necessary to speak to issues, to clearly establish that it is a personal opinion, and not given as a Board member.
A final point, however. These rules should not be an excuse to avoid voting on a difficult or controversial matter when appropriate. Courage is often required.
Penalties do apply for failure to comply with conflict of interest rules. They vary by law, however, and should be studied individually. They are included in the appendix of this handbook. The City Council may choose to remove a person from office for failing to observe these rules.
These rules have been explained in plain, simple English. The exact rules of Missouri law and Springfield ordinance are included. Ultimately, the exact language of each law and ordinance must be used. If you have a question, please do not hesitate to ask, formally or informally.
After you have read this handbook, and have no unanswered questions, please sign the attached certificate and return it to the Springfield City Clerk's Office.
Public service can be rewarding. We also want to make it clear and understandable. We thank you sincerely for volunteering as a Citizen of Springfield.