Call’s second annual honors for open meetings presented

Burke Wasson

Burke Wasson


We pointed out last year that despite spending countless hours at public meetings, we’d never judged how well meetings were conducted.

That changed with our first open-meeting awards.

With 2008 almost finished, it’s time to reassess with the Call’s second annual honors.

Efficiency is a goal of any well-run meeting, and the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors is hands down awarded as Most Efficient. As the board meets two or three times a month, meetings are on time, to the point, long on information, short on small talk and usually within half an hour. For implementing a tremendous amount of policy in such timely fashion, the MFPD board is the benchmark for efficient government in south county.

A good sense of camaraderie is also a hallmark of a good board. And we can think of no better example of this than the Mehlville Board of Education, which is easily our pick for Most Casual. The board’s seven well-serving members often make excellent decisions and appear to enjoy doing it. The board’s good nature is a welcome progression from past Mehlville school boards that were at each other’s throats.

This award comes with a caveat, though, as sometimes that casual good nature can veer off course into more of a country club than a board meeting.

While the board makes good decisions, meetings usually start late, banter can overtake business and the board at times likes to “take a break” in the middle of meetings — something we saw no other board do in 2008.

Compounding these unnecessary delays is meetings’ start time recently being pushed back from 7 to 7:30 p.m. By the time most meetings end, public attendance is virtually empty. The later start time and the “break” are a disservice to the board’s audience and add almost an extra needless hour.

But above all, we applaud the board for doing its job to improve education and focus on what’s best for the district. If their meetings had more of that focus, the board would be virtually perfect in our eyes.

Most boards could learn a lot by attending a Lindbergh Board of Education meeting, which is our pick for Most Professional. Board members ask tough questions without stirring emotions. Officials are knowledgeable without being condescending. And everyone involved breeds respect.

But in Crestwood, Board of Aldermen meetings hold the dubious distinction of being Most Disrespectful.

A handful of meetings could have been better described as shouting matches, and we saw more of those in Crestwood than anywhere else in 2008. Citizens and aldermen have been silenced if their opinion isn’t favorable, usually by Mayor Roy Robinson.

Roy also has hurled insults, referring to the 72 percent of voters who denied a tax increase in August as “not legitimate.”

We’re constantly amused by Roy as he’s always good for a one-liner or an abrasive quote at public meetings. But for the sake of good government, it’s a shame that a board full of good aldermen hasn’t stood up to Roy, restored order and stopped his antics, which are truly “not legitimate.”

While County Executive Charlie Dooley can also revert into combat mode at meetings, the County Council nevertheless allows for any and all opinions to be heard.

Therefore, County Council meetings are our pick for Most Open. Even if the opinions heard are at times unfavorable and Dooley will occasionally fight back, the County Council will hear them.

A man of many opinions is our pick for Best Public Speaker. Whether it’s the County Council, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, the Metro transit agency board or other public bodies, University City resident Tom Sullivan usually is present and has a comment.

Whether it’s brave or reckless to make bitingly critical comments to board members’ faces, Sullivan is passionate and relentless in his pursuit of better government. The world could use more like him.

Awards aside, we urge all public bodies in 2009 to work toward the only goal we really care about — being open with the public.