Camden County Associate District Commissioner Cliff Luber is denying an alleged conflict of interest in an ongoing legal dispute between the county and Lazy Gators.

Camden County Associate District Commissioner Cliff Luber is denying an alleged conflict of interest in an ongoing legal dispute between the county and Lazy Gators.

Luber says there has been no ethics violation or dishonesty despite accusations from a group of Camden County citizens over a shared business connection between the commissioner and developer Gary Prewitt.

The developer's parent company, Glacier Park Investments, LLC, owns Lazy Gators on Sweet William Road on Horseshoe Bend and the adjacent lakeside restaurant and bar, Shady Gators.

Since opening in 2009, Lazy Gators has operated under Shady Gators' catering license after the Camden County Planning and Zoning Commission and Camden County Commission denied requests to rezone the Lazy Gators property to commercial. A pool, tiki bars and cabanas are operated at Lazy Gators despite the property being zoned R-1, low density residential. Under these circumstances, Lazy Gators’ patrons are technically considered guests at private parties.

In late 2010, then-members of the county commission — which did not include Luber — voted to file an injunction against Prewitt and Glacier Park to prevent him from doing business at Lazy Gators.

Kim Krostue, a leader of a citizens group making the accusations against Luber, alleges that the associate commissioner has a conflict of interest in the case because he and Prewitt purportedly have both been clients of the same local public relations and advertising firm, and because the owner of the PR firm purportedly approached Luber about a possible settlement of the Prewitt lawsuit once Luber was in office.

Luber says that he paid $375 to the firm for consulting work during his election in 2012, but says that it was simply a business deal for advice on election issues and no more. The payment was included in his election committee's disclosure report with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Luber says that he was approached by the shared PR consultant regarding the Prewitt case early in 2013, but says he did not negotiate or promise anything regarding the case.

According to Luber, he merely took word back to the commission for consideration as a whole that Prewitt might be interested in negotiating a settlement.

"The only obligation I felt I was under was to try to save taxpayers any more additional legal expenses," he says.

That conversation led to three meetings in 2013 between Prewitt, the county commission and their attorneys, says Luber, but no settlement has been reached.

After being in the court system for three years, the case was placed on the dismissal docket Jan. 1, 2014, per Local Rule 37.1 to be dismissed on March 17, 2014, unless good cause could be shown for removal from the dismissal docket, and on Jan. 27 the county commission's attorney filed a motion to remove the case from the dismissal docket.

According to Luber, the case is getting a new judge, putting the lawsuit essentially back to square one.

And the outcome, he says, is not up to the county commission, anyway.

"The county has no control over a lawsuit in litigation. It is entirely up to the judge whether to rule in favor of Prewitt or Camden County," Luber says.

Outside the lawsuit, the negotiations between Prewitt and the commission opened the possibility of a new satellite parking lot for the Gators complex on property that had gone accidentally unzoned. The intent of the additional parking space is to ease problems related to Gators patrons parking in the surrounding residential neighborhood.

A proposal by Prewitt Enterprises to zone the property B-2, general commercial, and R-2, medium density residential, was withdrawn from the P&Z docket by Prewitt late last year. Another application from Prewitt was back on the agenda for the Feb. 19 P&Z Commission meeting, proposing zoning the approximately 28 acres of unzoned property to B-1, low impact commerical, and R-1, low density residential. But the application was revised once again after public notices had been made for the hearing on the case to switch back to B-2 and enlarge the commercial area for a retail general store/deli with outdoor dining area. A hearing was held on the parking lot issue but not on the rest as the new application will be noticed for the March 19 meeting.

Krostue points to Luber's support of the parking lot as suspicious in light of the court case between the commission and Prewitt.

The citizens group supports planning and zoning and, says Krostue, realistic enforcement of the P&Z's Unified Land Use Code.

Krostue was one of the few supporters of proposed changes to Article 600, which would have strengthened enforcement of the code. The revisions, however, were not passed after several other citizens protested the proposed enforcement actions as too harsh.

Some of the citizens against the changes to Article 600 were members of the Lake Area Conservative Club, of which Luber is also a member. The LACC is a local branch of the national Tea Party movement.

While Krostue is calling for the associate commissioner to recuse himself from any votes related to Prewitt and Lazy Gators, Luber says he will continue to vote on anything that might come before the commission related to Prewitt because there is not a conflict of interest merely because he and Prewitt have used the same PR firm.

Luber contends that the lawsuit and the parking lot are two separate issues. Permitting the parking lot would not affect the lawsuit, but could help make the situation better for residents near the Gators properties, he says.

Questions about possible conflicts of interest related to the Prewitt case are nothing new for the commission.

Current Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken took office in January 2011 ― just days after the county commission (comprised of current Associate Commissioner Bev Thomas and former commissioners Carolyn Loraine and Thom Gumm) voted to file the injunction against Prewitt.

Early on, Franken said he would recuse himself from voting on any decisions related to the case in part due to being the recipient of $1,500 in campaign contributions from three of Prewitt's other businesses.

At that time, Franken said the contributions were not tied to the Lazy Gators case but were merely in support of his candidacy as a whole.

The citizens group questioning Luber has also formed a political action committee, officially established under the Missouri Ethics Commission on Feb. 4, 2014.

Krostue, a Camdenton area resident, is listed as the treasurer of Coalition for Better Government, while Bill Pragman of Laurie is the deputy treasurer.

Krostue says the PAC was formed so the group could take a more proactive role in supporting better government and better candidates in Camden County from county officials to school board members.

"We're involved with all commissioners and scrutinizing all commissioners and all county officials," says Krostue. "I think if you look at the intent of our group, it's not to endorse people, but if there are three to four candidates running and if there's one we think is terrible, we will go after that candidate."

However, he adds that the group is not going after Luber in particular, but has met with all three commissioners over the last year to suggest ways to improve their performance. All three have responded well at different times, and at other times, they have not responded so well, according to Krostue.

It should be noted that all of the commissioners are Republicans, and Krostue is listed on the Camden County Republican Club's Facebook page as the vice president of the organization.