Mayor Brian Treece wanted Columbia City Council members Ian Thomas and Michael Trapp to “evaluate” their ability to serve on the council, according to emails obtained by ABC 17 News.
Treece sent a draft statement to at least three council members that they would release to the media after the Cole County Prosecutors Office charged Thomas on Sept. 5. The draft statement mirrors what was sent on Sept. 6, with the exception of one line.
The statement released decried the negotiations Thomas, who represents the Fourth Ward, entered into with developers of a northeast Columbia neighborhood. Thomas promised his and Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp’s support of the development if the developers donated $40,000 to the Columbia Community Land Trust.
“As members of the Columbia City Council, we expect open, honest and transparent government,” the statement said, signed by Treece, Clyde Ruffin, Karl Skala, Matt Pitzer and Betsy Peters. “We commend city staff for having the courage to report their concerns about this breach of public trust.
“There is no rationale that would ever make it acceptable for an elected official to request any payment in exchange for a favorable vote. These actions, and resulting charges, taint the integrity of our democracy and undermine public confidence.”
Treece’s draft, though, contained this ending:
“Ian Thomas and Michael Trapp need to evaluate whether they can continue to serve with the trust of their constituents.”
Skala emailed that he “approved” of the draft statement. Peters, representing the Sixth Ward, said that she would “leave Mike out” of the email entirely.
It was Ruffin that called for the outright deletion of the line.
“I appreciate the simplicity and the neutrality of the statement with the exception of the last two sentences, which seem to condemn Ian and Mike prematurely,” Ruffin wrote in a Sept. 6 email. “I would prefer to simply clarify our values and standards as a council and allow the legal procedure to guide our judgment.”
Treece said on Monday that he wanted council to issue a strong statement following the charges.
“We can’t have a cloud hanging over council, and that’s why I was proud to have a majority of my colleagues join me in that statement saying this is not acceptable,” Treece said.
Thomas declined to comment on the emails on Monday. Both Trapp and Ruffin did not return a request seeking comment on Monday.
Thomas has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Treece said that he asked Thomas to consider stepping back from the council following the prosecutor’s decision, and said he stood by the sentiment on Monday.
“I think he needs to continue to regain the trust of his constituents and regain the trust of his colleagues on council,” Treece said.