City not given option to go to trial by liability carrier,
which agreed to settlement
By Allen Edmonds
Attorneys for Midwest Public Risk, the liability carrier for the City of Belton, and fired Belton City Manager Alexa Barton settled a lawsuit Barton filed against the city alleging her dismissal to be the result of employment discrimination and retaliation.
Under the settlement, Barton received a total of $375,000 – $225,810.90 for “emotional distress damages” and $149,189.10 for attorney’s fees, costs and expenses.
The agreement was signed on Oct. 11 by MPR, and the case was dismissed in Cass County Circuit Court later in the month.
The city, which is liable for $10,000 of the total as its deductible, was not consulted prior to the agreement, said City Manager Joe Warren, who replaced Barton last year.
“We were informed,” Warren said.
In her suit, filed last September, Barton alleged that current Mayor Norman Larkey was insubordinate and called her and other female city employees offensive names when he was fire chief, leading to her dismissing him from that position.
Then, the 17-page suit claims, Larkey retaliated by orchestrating the election of four council members that would support him in removing her as city manager when he was elected in April 2021, succeeding former Mayor Jeff Davis who championed Barton's hiring over the cautions of some councilmembers at the time.
The suit alleges former Assistant Fire Chief Bobby Sperry, now Chief at the West Peculiar Fire Protection District, conspired with Larkey to fend off investigations into their conduct and “openly voiced their plans to get revenge against the Plaintiff” following their separation from the department.
In the months following his election as mayor, the suit claimed, Larkey intentionally excluded Barton from discussions with city staff that negatively affected her ability to do her job.
Larkey had been eager for the case to go to trial, thus giving him the opportunity to argue against the claim.
“(The settlement) was all driven by the insurance company. We had no say,” Larkey said.
“They told us that anything we might have been found liable for beyond this amount, we would’ve been on our own.”
In the end, Larkey said, though “I wanted to go to trial, we ended up doing what was best for the citizens of this city – putting this case to rest and moving forward. It is what it is. I’m over it.”
An ongoing concern for Larkey, however, remains Barton’s longstanding connection with MPR.
She had served as board president for the liability carrier based in Independence more than once, he said, and only left the board after her dismissal from the Belton position. Board members must be current full-time employees of members of the MPR insured “pool.” Board members, according to MPR’s website, “come together in making the best decisions for the entire pool.”
He said the city would be putting the contract for liability coverage out for bid this coming year.
Barton’s tenure with Belton was controversial at times, with heavy employee and management turnover.
Her service was a campaign flashpoint in the last mayoral race, as two of the four challengers for Davis’ former post, Larkey and Art Ruiz, stated they would not support her continued service in the position.
During the campaign, Davis defended her record, but the two-term incumbent wound up finishing third in the four-candidate race.