Soon after being elected mayor of Lake Ozark in April 2021, Dennis Newberry changed the city letterhead to include his photo in the upper right corner and the city’s logo in the upper left corner. Over this past weekend, he used that letterhead to promote candidates he supported in the April 5 election. He posted the letter on Facebook.
However, 36 hours after posting the letter of endorsement, it was apparently deleted. The letter of endorsement was reposted later not using the City of Lake Ozark letterhead, but under his signature as mayor. He added, “This is NOT an endorsement of the City of Lake Ozark.”
After a brief investigation of City of Lake Ozark ordinances, it appears his letter of endorsement is in direct violation of ordinance Subhead C, Section 106.120 Use of Public Resources, No. 2010-36, 8-24-2010 which states:
“A public official shall not utilize the City's name, letterhead, logo or seal for the purpose of endorsing any political candidate, business, commercial product or service.”
Newberry is endorsing two candidates each for Lake Ozark Board of Aldermen, School of the Osage Board of Education and the Camdenton Board of Education. The City of Lake Ozark isn't in the Camdenton School District. None of the candidates he's endorsing are current members of any of the boards.
Liz Ziegler, executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, said she could not comment on “an issue like this because it’s always possible that we can receive a complaint. The Missouri Ethics Commission has different rules, one of which is we can receive complaints against public officials for violations, and so I can’t discuss something in the media because of the possibility that, if this came before the commission. And I’m not commenting at all whether it would be a complaint or not. I’m just telling you that’s why I can’t discuss a situation like this.”
According to Laura Holloway, communications and marketing manager for the Missouri Municipal League, while it was the Missouri Ethics Commission that would look at the matter, “In general, of course, we tell cities – our members – that they can’t use city funds to advocate. Cities can educate about what a proposition is for – things like that – but not to use city funds to tell someone how to vote.”
She said because Newberry wrote the letter on city letterhead but posted the letter online, it “gets into a gray area. An official can share how to vote – yes or no – but cannot use city funds – but there are a lot of factors that could be at play there.”
Alderman Pat Thompson, who is running unopposed in Ward I, said she is insulted by the mayor’s statement in his letter of endorsement that those running for election other than those Newberry endorsed “simply can’t move on. You be the judge of why.”
“Is he alleging that I’m doing it for some personal gain? We get a couple hundred dollars per month for serving. When you break it down by the hours spent in regular board meetings, in commission meetings, in special meetings and doing research, we probably made a couple dollars an hour. And I am retired – I don’t own a business in the city so I have nothing to gain. The only reason I’m running again is because I care about our city and want to work with the rest of the board to help Lake Ozark continue to grow,” she said, adding that City Administrator David Mitchem shared numbers at their last board meeting that proved that is exactly what the board was accomplishing.
“Last year the board voted to adopt the Use Tax, which has brought in an additional $250,000 in revenue and is earmarked for the streets. Because of that, we can start fixing our roads this year. I wasn’t serving on the board at the time aldermen approved the TIF for Eagles’ Landing, but I’ve been part of the board that’s continued to work with the developer to see it through – and according to Mr. Mitchem’s report, that’s going to result in a half-million dollars in new revenue for the city. So, I don’t want to move on? No, I don’t – I want to continue the forward progress we’ve been making.”