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Distribution of TracFone settlement fund splits Chesterfield City Council

In a Chesterfield City Council meeting already notable due to the absence of Mayor Bob Nation, with Councilmember Dan Hurt [Ward 3] serving as president pro tem, councilmembers examined a plan to send 5 percent of a cash settlement received from a class, action lawsuit against TracFone Wireless, Inc. to the Missouri Municipal League’s advocacy fund to be used for litigation purposes.

The council’s Finance & Administration [F&A] Committee voted on May 8 to recommend the action to the council. The league represented 295 Missouri municipalities in a class, action lawsuit when the prepaid wireless provider refused to pay license taxes on its services. Chesterfield’s settlement share was $30,847; 5 percent of the amount would equate to about $1,542.

Some councilmembers were not in favor of sending the money to the organization and cited concerns about providing funds to a lobbyist organization.

“At this point, we lose control of it,” Councilmember Ben Keathley [Ward 2] said. “It doesn’t go toward our residents anymore. It goes toward a lobbyist group. We don’t know what they would use the money for and if that would be consistent with what we want.

“I think it’s inappropriate that we give taxpayer funds to a lobbyist organization to begin with, but I think it’s even more damaging if that money is used to the possible detriment of our residents.”

Other councilmembers saw the contribution as a small price to pay for the league’s assistance, on the city’s behalf, in achieving the class-action settlement.

“In the past, when we’ve had previous fights about reimbursement and payment by these telephone-related entities, this has been the traditional way that they have been funded,” Councilmember Barry Flachsbart [Ward 1] said. “When the money is recovered, a small percentage of it goes back to the lobbying effort that the Missouri Municipal League does. I believe that this is an appropriate thing and that we should indeed pay our share.”

The council was split evenly over a vote, with Hurt breaking the tie. The result was a 5-4 vote in favor of sending the funds to the league, although the issue may circle back to the council for future consideration if requested by the mayor.

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