Former Tracy mayor is back as an alderman

Less than two weeks after the mayor of Tracy, Mo., was removed from office for nepotism, she again is serving the city — this time as an alderman.

A judge removed Rita A. Rhoads, who had been mayor since 2008, from office earlier this month for violating the Missouri Constitution’s ban on nepotism.

On Wednesday night the Board of Aldermen appointed Julie Thomas, who had served as board president, to replace Rhoads as mayor until voters can select a replacement during the next election in April.

Also Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to name Rhoads as Thomas’ replacement on the board of aldermen, said Lisa Rehard, the city attorney. That term expires in April.

Rehard said there was nothing to prevent Rhoads from being appointed to the board. However, Rhoads cannot serve as mayor for the remainder of the current term, which ends in April 2014, Rehard said.

Platte County Circuit Judge Owens Lee Hull Jr. removed Rhoads from the mayor’s office after she paid $100 to her son-in-law to fix a city sign even though state law prohibited her from hiring family members to do city work.

Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd had filed a civil action July 9 requesting the removal. That week, Hull issued a preliminary order that barred Rhoads from exercising authority as mayor and ordered her to respond to the prosecutor’s lawsuit within 15 days.

Under Missouri law, prosecutors can file such a suit to remove an elected official from office should she commit nepotism.

Neither Thomas nor Rhoads could be reached for comment Thursday.

Zahnd said Thursday that the board can appoint any resident to fill the alderman vacancy.

“I hope good times are ahead for the city,” he said.

According to the lawsuit, Rhoads hired son-in-law Matthew Spores to repair a sign that had been damaged by a drunken driver. The $100 check initially was made out to MDS Construction, for which Spores had been a registered agent. However, when Spores could not cash the check, he returned it to Rhoads, who then wrote him a check on a city account.

Rhoads also had hired Spores to perform other city work, including repairing a garage door and replacing a water heater. Rhoads maintained that she did not try to cover up who received the money, even though she approved an invoice to her son-in-law’s defunct business.

A city employee warned Rhoads that she could not hire her son-in-law, but she persisted anyway, authorities said.

“I don’t care,” Rhoads purportedly responded. “They need the money.”