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Resolution to remove Rockwood solar panels reveals feud between Independence City Council members

Stock Independence City Hall 4
Posted at 4:03 PM, Dec 29, 2021
and last updated 2022-01-12 17:15:25-05

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — In early December, two members of the Independence City Council submitted a resolution to remove the solar panels from Rockwood Golf Club, records show.

The KSHB 41 I-Team learned it's unlikely the city will move the solar panels anytime soon.

Instead, it appears the proposed resolution may be centered around a political battle between city council members Michael Steinmeyer, Mike Huff and Mayor Eileen Weir.

An accusation in the resolution

Submitted on behalf of Steinmeyer and Huff, the resolution accuses Weir of being in negotiations with a low-income housing developer for the remaining areas of the golf course that are not occupied by solar panels.

The resolution, according to Dan Hobart, city council member, was pulled directly from the website of Holmes Osborne, who is running for mayor in 2022.

"It appears to be the exact same thing," Hobart said.

In an email, Jeremy Cover, Independence city attorney, advises Huff and Steinmeyer to remove the resolution from the Dec. 6 agenda in order to avoid liability for themselves as well as the city.

"Based off my review of the attached resolution, as well as information provided at the website below for Holmes Osborne, it is my opinion the resolution violates Sec. 115.646, RSMo., regarding the use of public funds for political purposes," Cover wrote.

Hobart and Karen DeLuccie, both members of the city council, said they had no previous knowledge Huff and Steinmeyer wanted to remove the solar panels — a discussion DeLuccie and Hobart said they believe should have taken place prior to a vote of the city council.

"It appears there are council members who are trying to be political during council proceedings," Hobart said.

Rockwood Golf Club is a political talking point for Osborne.

In addition to posting the resolution to his website, which has since been removed, Osborne also sent out fliers similar to the resolution.

City denies being in negotiations

During a phone call with the I-Team, Weir denied the city is in negotiations regarding the Rockwood property.

The I-Team requested all emails from the city in regards to Rockwood Golf Club but found no evidence of the claim listed in Osborne's resolution that was submitted to the city by Huff and Steinmeyer.

Zach Walker, city manager, confirmed the city is not in negotiations.

Hobart said the accusation against the mayor on behalf of fellow council members is not appropriate, adding it's a council member's job to work on behalf of citizens.

"The council's job is to make decisions for the rest of Independence based on their best, independent judgment, and we shouldn't be at war with each other politically while doing that," Hobart said.

Financial impact on the city

When the city created the Rockwood solar farm in 2017, it entered into a 30-year contract with MC Power to lease the solar panels.

While the city has the option of eventually buying the solar panels, if it removed the panels prematurely, Hobart said the city would be liable.

"[It would have a] massive financial impact and legal impact," Hobart said.

The resolution submitted by Steinmeyer and Huff didn't include any financial notes indicating what the cost would be to remove the solar panels.

The resolution did not state where the solar panels, that are now being used by citizens in Independence, would be moved to.

City council woes

DeLuccie has long complained that members of the city council abruptly add resolutions to the agenda before the rest of the council has time to educate themselves on the topics they are asked to vote on.

"We're talking about removing solar panels, and we don't know where they're going and what it will cost?" DeLuccie said. "I'm shocked."

Hobart said he wants there to be more discussion about matters that impact the people of Independence.

"It's governance by surprise," Hobart said. "Obviously the point of doing that is to put people on the spot with something they're not prepared to vote on. It's not quality governance, it's not responsible by any means and it's certainly not serving the citizens of this town."

Hearing from mayoral candidate

While Osborne didn't say if he had previous knowledge Steinmeyer and Huff attempted to add his resolution to the city agenda, he told the I-Team he was pleased the resolution was presented to the city.

"I put what I thought is a sound resolution on my website, and it's open to the public," Osborne said. "If anybody wants to take it before the city council and have it voted upon, I'm for it."

Osborne said the issue of solar panels being placed on the Rockwood property is one that resonates with voters.

When asked why he removed the resolution from his website, Osborne cited the recent backlash regarding Huff and Steinmeyer submitting the resolution to the city.

"I want to run a clean election," Osborne said.

The I-Team reached out to Huff and Steinmeyer by phone and email but got no response.

What is happening with Rockwood?

In November, the city issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) to help determine what the options would be for the remaining acres that are not being used for solar.

Walker said the city has yet to review all the options.

"We did an RFQ because we wanted to see what ideas were out there," Walker said. "While most of our recent solicitations were for residential, the RFQ allowed us to see what kind of firms expressed interest in developing that area."

The RFQ process closed Dec. 9. Walker said the city will evaluate all options for Rockwood after Jan. 1.

A final determination will likely be made in the spring, according to Walker.

In the meantime, DeLuccie, Hobart and Weir said council members should keep politics separate from their duties as elected officials.

"Keep your politics outside of city hall," Weir said. "We'll fight for the election out at the doors and at the polls, not in city hall."