Scott Roberson decided a year ago that the next step in a long record of community service would be a seat on the Independence City Council. He ran for office and won.
For that, he has been subjected to a cowardly harassment campaign.
Three times since he took office, ugly mailings have landed at the homes of Roberson, some of his constituents and even some persons outside of his council district.
Rife with ridiculous aspersions and outright lies, they are clearly intended to run a capable and well-intentioned elected official out of public life.
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What’s less clear is why. And who.
The mailings are anonymous. They omit the “paid for by” disclaimer required of political mailings by Missouri law. No campaign committee or treasurer is listed. And they were mailed with postage stamps, not with a bulk mail permit, which would indicate where the mailings originated.
People familiar with Independence politics have various theories about why Roberson, a well-regarded dentist, is being targeted and by whom. The overlapping opinion is that the independent-minded councilman may get in the way of one or more factions that have long sought influence and contracts from the city government.
“It has to do with control,” said former Mayor Don Reimal, who recruited Roberson to seek a council seat to replace a member who resigned.
Roberson claimed 66 percent of the vote when he and candidate Roxann Thorley faced off in the April 2014 city election to serve the two years remaining in the term for the 3rd District seat.
In the run-up to that election, voters received a mailing that falsely accused Roberson of supporting school transfer and voucher programs.
The committee claiming to have paid for the ad, Citizens for Independence Students, never registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission, as required by law. There is no record that the treasurer named, Dewayne Kalton, even exists.
The deceitful mailing listed the same bulk mail permit number as legitimate campaign mailings supporting Thorley. The permit is held by Mail & More, a mailing service in Grain Valley.
The mailing service, and the permit number, are often used in eastern Jackson County political campaigns. At least some of Thorley’s mailings list the name of an organization connected with Phil LeVota, a lawyer and lobbyist. His clients include the city of Independence.
“I do a lot of consulting,” LeVota said. “Anybody with a campaign, I send them to Mail & More.”
LeVota said he didn’t know who produced the bogus school voucher mailing.
After the election, Roberson contacted an attorney to look into the mailing. He said the shadowy nature of the unregistered committee bothered him.
Ryan Parks, an attorney with the Graves Garrett law firm, began investigating.
“We were hired to protect our client’s rights and his reputation,” Parks said in a statement. “In the course of our representation we discovered information about those mailings that we passed along to the appropriate authorities to serve our client’s best interest.”
Parks would not say who the “appropriate authorities” are or disclose what he learned. But sources said the file was handed over to the Jackson County prosecutor’s office. Sources also said LeVota acted as the attorney for Mail & More when Parks was investigating.
Michael Mansur, a spokesman for Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, said the office could not “confirm or deny anything regarding an investigation or our assessment of the situation at this time.”
It was after Parks began investigating the questionable campaign mailings that the anonymous attacks began arriving in mailboxes.
The first one appeared in November. It falsely stated that Roberson, apparently singlehandedly, had raised taxes on Independence residents.
The second mailing, in February, was more personal. The third, received last month, devolved into outright character assassination.
“I get the feeling they’re trying to intimidate me so I won’t run again,” Roberson said.
“It’s stressful,” he added. “I hate to have things said about me that are totally untrue and have no way to rebut them.”
The mailings are amateurish, but they were produced by someone with a working knowledge of Independence city government and also a knack for skirting Missouri campaign finance law.
This is exactly the type of political bullying that discourages good people from seeking elected office. The vile and false attacks on Roberson are damaging to everyone who cares about government.
It is often difficult to pin down violations of campaign finance law, and it is just as hard to prove harassment or defamation and identify who is responsible. People who flout the law and the boundaries of decency know this.
That’s why it is essential that authorities make a concerted effort to learn who is behind the attacks on Roberson and whether laws have been broken. To brush off the matter would embolden whoever is responsible, and others.
Roberson, meanwhile, is hanging tough. Though the attack mailings have “given him pause,” he says he’s planning to run for a four-year term when his seat comes open next April. On the council, he’s been pushing for clean energy incentives for city buildings and customers of the city-owned Independence Power & Light.
“I’m doing this for the good of Independence and for my kids and grandkids,” Roberson said. “I really want to make this the city on the hill.”