Council member accused of using city email for political purposes

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COLUMBIA - A Columbia Councilman could have violated a Missouri Revised Statute for a second time.  

Fourth Ward Councilman, Ian Thomas sent out an email from his government issued email account encouraging his constituents to vote "yes" for Proposition 1 in Tuesday's election.

Proposition 1 would extend the 1/4 of a cent capital Improvement sales tax for another 10 years.

According to Missouri Revised Statutes states, "No contribution or expenditure of public funds shall be made directly by any officer, employee or agent of any political subdivision to advocate, support or oppose any ballot measure or candidate for public office."

Thomas said he does not believe he broke any laws.

"It's not clear that what I did is illegal," Thomas said. "The statute says I should not use public funds to advocate for a ballot issue. I would argue that, even though I accidentally used my city email address to send this one email, it did not cost the city any money when I did it."

Thomas apologized for sending a similar email last year before an election, asking his constituents to vote for a measure that would increase development fees.

After the incident, he issued a statement through his city email address apologizing for sending the email and stating, "I will refrain from any further use of the email account for that purpose."

According to Richard Reuben, a University of Missouri law professor who specializes in election law, said there is some gray area on whether or not someone can use a government email address for campaigning on behalf of a ballot measure.

"The real issue could be whether or not it is sensible for a politician to do this," Reuben said.

Thomas said sending the email this time was a mistake and he had meant to send it from his personal email account.

He has issued an formal apology on his website.

"It is bad practice and I wanted to acknowledge that I intended to send it from my personal account," Thomas said.