Lee's Summit councilman causing concerns after linked financial contributions

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. - As Lee’s Summit city councilman Chris Moreno faces a recall election in April, he’s now also facing several questions regarding recent financial contributions tied to his campaign.

Moreno made a motion in January to lower the payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, that local developer, M150 Echelon Land Development Project, would have to pay the city while building the new Residences at Echelon.

Moreno asked the city to lower the PILOT from $1,051 per unit to $935 per unit, back down to the original price the city had once set.

After the city voted against the motion, they later agreed to meet in the middle, voting to approve a PILOT at $993 per unit. Some believe this move saved the developer millions of dollars.

According to Missouri Ethics Commission documents, a Political Action Committee was formed by February 6 called ‘Taxpayers Alliance.”

Although Moreno told 41 Action News he is not involved with the PAC, his father, David Moreno, is listed as the treasurer and a phone number associated with Moreno and one of his former businesses is listed as the PAC phone number.

The main financial contributors to the PAC were Fred Delibero, owner of M150 Echelon Land Development Project and former owner of Summit Custom Homes, along with MCDC Partners, LLC, which donated $2,500 from his company, MCDC Partners, while another $2,500 came from Rob Ellerman Real Estate, a business partner who works closely Summit Custom Homes.

Some Lee’s Summit voters believe the connection and the financial contributions are illegal. Voters 41 Action News spoke with in Lee's Summit Friday said the news will impact their vote.

"Seeing what is essentially a payoff would cause me to call into question the motivations of the council member and the project as a whole,” said Christopher Hosmann, a Lee's Summit resident who was visiting Whistlestop Café Friday.

“It will affect my vote. I think we need to have transparency on who is funding campaigns,” said Amanda Smothers, another Lee's Summit voter.

41 Action News reached out to an outside political campaign consultant to look at the documents. Although he wanted to remain anonymous, he sent the following statement:

“This entire matter looks very unsightly. What appears to be a quid pro quo for Moreno's push to get the developer a substantial tax break in exchange for campaign contribution is what is wrong with politics in our country. About the only thing you can say good about all this is that Mr. Moreno is so bold and unashamed that he openly reported the contributions.” 

Moreno declined to go on camera with 41 Action News, but agreed to a phone interview.

The councilman said the PAC and its financial contributions were entirely legal.

"You're making the assumption that the two are somewhat connected, which is absolutely alternative facts," he said. "They have a right as Lee's Summit residents to give to any PAC they want. There is nothing wrong with a Lee's Summit resident or residents having a PAC. From my understanding that's totally allowed under law isn't it?"

Moreno said that he was only trying to be fair with a city client when he voted to lower the PILOT for Delibero’s company.

"Mayor Pro Tem [Rob] Binney jacked up the PILOT on this client but was silent on all the other clients,” he said.

He also said that Delibero just happens to be a supporter of his, telling 41 Action News, “[He's] arguably the most respected builder in the entire Midwest. He lives in Lee's Summit. He has followed me through city politics online. He's been a supporter in terms of encouraging positive encouragement towards me in what I'm doing."

"Why they gave to the PAC or whatnot is a question for them but my guess would be they oppose the recall. They support the infrastructure tax. And what they did, there's nothing wrong with what they did,” he said.

41 Action News reached Delibero on Friday. The developer also declined an on-camera interview, but sent a very lengthy and detailed statement, explaining why he made the financial contributions to the Moreno-supporting PAC.

“The claims are without merit and a slanderous attack on reputable citizens of Lee’s Summit, and amount to nothing more than political intimidation,” said Delibero.

“My donation to Taxpayers Alliance aligns with the timing of the April election, and has no relationship or bearing on the actions of Councilman Moreno, or those of any other councilmember.  I support the issues that the PAC is fighting for and as a citizen of this city the process allows me to contribute to help fulfill my vision of what I believe makes our city the strongest it can be,” he said.

The rest of Delibero’s statement reads in part:

On January 27, 2017, my company, MCDC Partners, LLC did indeed make a $2,500 contribution to the Taxpayers Alliance PAC.  The PAC is focused on four key issues that are important to me… 1: Defeating the proposed Charter Amendments on the ballot this April.  The proposed Charter Amendments would take away veto power from our Mayor, instead making the Mayor a voting member of the council.  This action alone would diminish the Mayor’s power to protect the citizens of this great city from a bad vote, and it would diminish the Mayor’s standing with local, regional, and national businesses that he or she is courting to come to Lee’s Summit.  2:  Supporting the proposed Infrastructure and Storm Water Bond issue allowing the city to continue to make needed infrastructure improvements, and to correct storm water issues that have long plagued the residents of Lee’s Summit. 3: Electing a qualified school board.  It is no secret that Lee’s Summit School Board has made regional headlines over the past 12 months having made some questionable judgement calls.  This city deserves better, and it’s my hope that our residents prevail in April with three new qualified school board members that will serve the children, teachers, and residents of this city with respect and pride.  4: Putting a stop to frivolous recalls.  Over the past 10-years, our residents have had to consider 3 recall petitions.  It’s a waste of taxpayer resources and a distraction from more important business.  Regarding the current recall petition for Chris Moreno, 4th district council member, I think it’s wrong, and an ugly use of the recall process.  Councilmember Marino was elected this past April by a majority of his voters running against two other formidable candidates. In office, he’s delivered on the promises he’s made to his constituents during the campaign.  Among them, restoring in district ambulance service; supporting better pay and benefits for firefighters and first responders; fighting for growth and development; holding city officials accountable for their actions, and being transparent on social media.  Councilmember Moreno has called out cronyism in city government and he’s felt the backlash in the form of a senseless recall.  Of the more than 600 signatures on the recall petition, I believe only 59 voted in the election that Councilmember Marino won in.  It’s not difficult to get the people that didn’t vote for you the first time around to sign a petition to remove you.  If the councilman broke a law, or did something unethical, I would support his recall, but I haven’t seen that evidence.  Instead, I see what amounts to a political attack by other special interests who don’t agree with Councilmember Marino’s positions.  If his constituents want to replace him in the absence of a crime or other highly unethical situation being presented, the time to do that is at the next council election when his seat opens up for re-election. My donation to Taxpayers Alliance was to show support for all of these issues, all of which are important to me as a 20-year resident of this great city.  The allegation that it was made for any other reason is a baseless attack directly from the group trying to have Councilman Marino recalled. 

 

It is true that I believed our project was dealt a bad hand at the last minute by certain city councilmembers that clearly wanted to put my project at a disadvantage to those of other outside developers. After months of conversation with city staff about the Project 100 terms, the terms were changed on us at the last minute at the council meeting, and we were offered no chance to comment before a higher Chapter 100 payment was voted on at a much higher rate than previously indicated.  I called or otherwise communicated my displeasure with many members of the council to express my concern over the viability of the project moving forward with the new tax payment, and asked each to support an amendment to lower it back down to what was originally indicated.  While I appreciate that Councilman Marino brought up the topic and the injustice in how the increase was levied at the next council meeting, we didn’t get everything we had hoped for which was a roll back to our prior agreement.  Instead, the entire council collaborated and agreed to split the difference between what the original amount was and what the amount was set at during the prior council meeting.  In the end, it was a democratic process, and although we didn’t get what we expected from the process, we will accept what we did receive.  I encourage you to watch the council session on line.  I don’t believe it was councilmember Marino that read the final amendment, he simply brought up the issue as a motion that was not passed. I would expect he, or any other councilmember, should do this when a citizen of the community asks for help and equitable treatment, if they believe that is the case.

Moreno believes the only people concerned over the PAC matter are those still upset with him regarding his feud with fellow councilmember Diane Forte last year.

Moreno asked Forte to resign after bringing to light an illegal deal her business made with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Forte later stepped down from her role as council liaison to the Parks department.

"It's really a small little group of people who want to recall me because I put an end to their friend's illegal deal, period,” said Moreno. "You're getting the opinion of one political hack and a couple of individuals who are upset and want me removed from council, period."

But while both Moreno and Delibero insist the PAC and its financial contributions have nothing to do with the lowered PILOT, there’s no question the voters in Lee’s Summit are showing more concern.

"It doesn't surprise me at all and I just wish they would be professional,” said Lee’s Summit resident Linda Chick.

Moreno said part of the PAC money was spent on a “fact check-list on the facts pertaining to a number of issues coming forward on the April ballot.

The Missouri Ethics Commission does not investigate on such aforementioned matters with 60 days of an election.

They did tell 41 Action News they may be open to investigating such a case if a new complaint was filed following the April 4 election.

Delibero sent 41 Action News the following statement about Summit Custom Homes:

“I sold the assets of Summit Custom Homes, LLC October 31, 2016 and am no longer an owner of the company … The sale agreement required that I change the registered name Summit Custom Homes to SCH Legacy, LLC so as not to confuse ownership. SCH Legacy exists solely to service the warranty obligations on homes I sold to consumers prior to the closing of the asset sale on 10/31/2016. I am no longer involved with ownership in any entity that builds single family homes for sale, or develops single family lots for building homes for sale.”