If Tom Van Camp faces a recall election for his Independence City Council seat, he appears prepared to challenge it.
Van Camp's campaign committee recently received a $50,000 contribution from his wife, Marguerite, who also serves as the committee treasurer. It is believed to be the largest campaign contribution ever received by an Independence council member or candidate.
Contributions of greater than $5,000 must be reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission within 48 hours and must be listed again on the committee's next full report. According to records filed with the commission, Van Camp had $12,297.23 on hand at the end of September. (The next quarterly campaign filing is due in January.)
Van Camp said that if a recall election should take place, “I'm prepared to defend my record on the council,” and the influx of campaign funds would “assist in getting my message out.”
Van Camp was elected to the council in 2014 to represent the Fourth District – generally southwest Independence. He has come under fire from some citizens for his travel costs related to the city and the solar farm at the former Rockwood Golf Club land in his district.
One citizen in his district, Beverly Harvey, called for his resignation at a council meeting last month. She then announced at the Oct. 1 council meeting that a recall petition would be filed at City Hall. If approved, it would allow citizens to try to collect the necessary signatures for a recall election.
As of Thursday afternoon, no such petition had yet been filed with the city clerk's office. An online petition has been started, asking Van Camp to step down as mayor pro tem – to which his fellow council members him in April.
Van Camp was heavily involved in the city’s acquisition of the Rockwood land, and some citizens have bemoaned the process and price of that acquisition and what many saw as a lack of community engagement. Critics also have claimed he, among other council members, violated the City Charter in June when they voted to eliminate several positions in the Power & Light Department – an 11th-hour budget amendment that was reversed the next week with one changed vote.
Van Camp said a potential recall election creates a negative image of the community and would be counterproductive.
“I appeal to those citizens behind the recall to divert their efforts to making the community a better place to live,” Van Camp said.
According to MEC records, Van Camp spent about $14,500 when he was first elected in 2014 to complete the term of Eileen Weir after she was elected mayor. He spent $2,000 for the 2016 election, in which he was unopposed. He would be up for re-election in 2020.
The recall petition that citizens have planned to submit reportedly lists four reasons: violation of the City Charter, lack of responsiveness to constituents, wasting taxpayer and utility ratepayer funds, and general abuse of power.
Petitioners need valid signatures from 8 percent of the district's registered voters – about 1,300 people – to force a recall election. The city clerk has to approve the petition before that can start. Only voters in that district can sign the petition.
If the recall petition gets the necessary signatures, the City Council has to put the recall question on the ballot on an election day between 30 and 90 days after receiving notification from the city clerk.
If the recall fails at the polls, the incumbent continues in office. If the recall passes, the office is vacated and the council would appoint someone to serve the remainder of the term.
Van Camp has maintained that his travel – more than $20,000 over the course of three years – was legitimate and that he is “clean” regarding the travel costs. The extended stays at places such as Orlando, Las Vegas, and Panama City Beach, Fla., he said, often had to do with cheaper travel costs for specific days. He also reimbursed the city for three days lodging from the Panama City stay, which had been to visit a compressed-air power plant in southwest Alabama.
The council member did not respond to his request for resignation at the meeting, and after the recall announcement he referenced some of his travels when mentioning an upcoming Indy Energy forum Oct. 27. Among the scheduled topics is energy storage, and Van Camp mentioned his on-site visit to the compressed-air plant and said he learned about battery storage during pre-conference presentations in Orlando and Las Vegas.