The Hannibal Board of Public Works (HBPW) will be investing time and effort to educate the public regarding stormwater in the weeks leading up to the April 2 municipal election.
Proposition S, which will appear on the April ballot, asks residents to approve a fee schedule to fund the city's stormwater utility.
"We want to educate as much as possible without advocating for this proposition," said Andrea Campbell, the HBPW's stormwater coordinator, during the January meeting of the HBPW Board.
There will be various ways for the public to learn about the importance of stormwater management in Hannibal: visit the stormwater portion of the HBPW's website, attend one of the stormwater public meetings that the HBPW will be hosting in late March, attend one of the service club meetings where a HBPW representative has been invited to discuss stormwater, or directly contact a staff member of the HBPW.
HBPW Board President Lennie Rosenkrans appreciates the effort that will be made to educate the public regarding stormwater, especially since a stormwater-related issue will be on the ballot.
"I do think we need some education about stormwater," he said. "No matter what we do after things are done, there are going to be a lot of people that will say they didn't know anything about it and hadn't heard about it. We really do have to do something to be able to have a counter response after the fact."
Heath Hall, general manager of the HBPW, said HBPW personnel speaking to the public about stormwater will have to be careful to not let personal opinions slip into their comments, especially in regards to Proposition S. "We will just have to be cautious with our message and answer with facts," he said.
A revised brochure produced by the HBPW will be used to provide stormwater information. Campbell said the latest brochure was carefully reviewed so it does not encourage voters to vote in favor of the proposition.
"Proposition S is not even mentioned in there," she said.
Among those signing off on the new brochure is City Attorney James Lemon.
"The law is very clear. As a public entity we may not expend public funds to advocate for a particular outcome in any kind of an election. If you do that you are violating the law," he said. "However, in my opinion, there is case law that is very clear that you are allowed to inform the public and as long as you are providing information only, you are fine. I believe this brochure is information only. I don't believe it is advocating."
Lemon cautioned the HBPW Board that if a complaint regarding the brochure is filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC), there is no way to predict how it would rule.
Lemon represented the city during a hearing before the MEC in 2016. A complaint was filed about an informational brochure that was produced by the city and a series of articles that the city paid to have run verbatim as a paid advertisement in the Hannibal Courier-Post in advance of the April 7, 2015, election when two sales tax propositions were on the ballot. The MEC ruled that the city had violated ethics laws.