Monett's three-person city government of a mayor and two commissioners will expand to five people in the future, according to information released at the February Monett City Council meeting.
The topic was raised by Deborah Schoen, whose husband, Stephen Schoen, is running for a city council seat in the April 3 election. Schoen said research into Monett's commission form of government led to Chapter 78 of Missouri Revised Statutes.
Legislators revised Chapter 78.080 in 1991 and the current law state's that "cities having a population of over 8,000 and less than 30,000" shall have a mayor and four councilmen. The change was to be made at the first election after the 8,000 mark was reached.
Mayor Jim Orr said the city knew about the law and an exception written into it just for Monett. City Administrator Dennis Pyle said city officials were aware of the statute prior to June 2011, when federal census tallies were released. The St. Louis law firm of Cunningham, Vogel and Rost, specialists in municipal law, were contacted for advice on how to proceed.
"We understood that the city was scheduled to conduct a primary election in February of 2012 and required guidance on this matter if it was determined that the city needed to expand the number of elected officials," Pyle told The Times. "We requested a legal opinion from a firm that advises the Missouri Municipal League and specializes in municipal law."
The 1991 revision included language pertaining specifically to Monett. The law stated the change would stand "except in any city with a population of at least 5,000 within a third class county which adjoins three other third class counties and one second class county and the state of Arkansas, wherein the law applicable before Aug. 28, 1991, shall continue to apply."
The legal opinion from Dan Vogel, with Cunningham, Vogel and Rost, concluded lawmakers meant to identify Monett in the exception. The law also stated Monett would have to change once its population hit 10,000, the threshold set in state law prior to the 1991 revision.
"Based upon the above, the city determined that the proper course of action was to retain the current government structure," Pyle said.
Stephen Schoen said it seemed to him delaying the expansion of the city council to five persons should be decided by a vote of the people, and not a decision of the incumbent city council.
Orr ended the discussion by noting Vogel, in his opinion, specified the city was "compelled" to follow the law as stated.
"If it says we're compelled, that's what we're going to do," Orr said.