Lee’s Summit councilwoman’s business dealings come under fire

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LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- Lee's Summit City Councilwoman Diane Forte came under fire during Thursday's meetings for her personal business dealings with the city. At issue, whether she or the Lee's Summit Parks and Recreation Department broke ethics laws with purchases that never went out for bid.

“There are rules and laws that you abide by in order to operate a business with the city’s tax dollars, this is not social club this is not student council,” Councilman Chris Moreno told Forte.

City of Lee's Summit rules only require bids or quotes for purchases of more than $1,000. Documents show Forte and the Parks Departments entered into one such agreement. But Missouri requires a bid process for all purchases over $500. Forte admits to fulfilling two such orders at her business Diane Forte Enterprises.

An inquiry into those dealings came downtown Lee's Summit business Dean's Trophies sent an email to the Parks Department. Dean's used to get thousands of dollars of business a year from Lee’s Summit’s Parks and Recreation, but that all stopped when Diane Forte left the company, started a business of her own and became a Lee’s Summit councilwoman.

“If anyone is going to resign up here, it’s not going to be me Mr. Moreno, it’s going to be you.”

“They knew they shouldn’t be giving these contracts out and they were finding ways to give them out anyways,” Dean's Trophies co-owner Jamey Suddarth said.

Internal emails from the Parks Department were read aloud in Thursday's night's session.

“I’m sure this is a response to the VIP awards that Jamey always did for us, that Tom made Pat go through Diane F, how should I respond to this?" one email from a parks employee read.

“Unfortunately it raises questions what’s going on?" Councilman David Mosby said.

The Tom mentioned in that internal email is Tom Lovell, Lee's Summit Director of Parks and Recreation.

“The only thing that person received was a suggestion that quotes be received from Diane Forte and probably others, never was there a direction that we do business specifically with any vendor,” Lovell said.

Lovell said there were no city rules for business with elected officials, and a separate park foundation is free to make purchases outside of any regulations.

Lee's Summit City Manager Steve Arbo says city staff is working on a new ordinance they’ll present to council next month banning city staff or elected officials from doing business with the city.

Forte said she already planned to discontinue such business, and has been removed as Parks Liaison.

“This was a misstep but it was something I admitted to, it’s the truth it’s what happened, I’m not going to do business with the parks," she said.

She reiterated the sentiments to the crowd, many there to support her, if she did break a law it’s not one she knew anything about.

“I apologize that from the bottom of my heart, I did not know,” she said.

She turned her ire toward Moreno.

“To come on this council, walk in and try to destroy relationships that I have built in this city, and take my name, If anyone is going to resign up here, it’s not going to be me Mr. Moreno, it’s going to be you,” Forte said.