City’s residents have right to know who initiated suit

“Call the Tune” by Mike Anthony
Executive Editor
news1@callnewspapers.com

The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen recently voted in closed session to authorize City Attorney Robert E. Jones to file a lawsuit against the owners of a property on Rayburn Avenue “to obtain judgment for payment of the city’s special tax bill.”
Aldermen voting to authorize Jones to file the suit were Dee Baebler of Ward 1, Steve Bersche of Ward 2, Kurt Krueger and Nathan Lipe of Ward 3 and Thompson Price and Mark Colombo of Ward 4. Ward 1 Alderman Richard Gau and Ward 2 Alderman Tom Musich were absent from the June 13 closed session.
Sunset Hills’ transparency is refreshing, as city officials saw fit to release which aldermen voted to authorize the city attorney to pursue a relatively minor lawsuit. That’s certainly not the case in Crestwood, particularly with a lawsuit that could prove to be far more costly than the one authorized by Sunset Hills aldermen.
As the Call previously has reported, Crestwood filed a lawsuit against the Affton Fire Protection District challenging the constitutionality of two state laws requiring the city to make annual payments to the fire district for an area the city annexed in 1997.
Not only are Crestwood officials challenging the constitutionality of two state laws that they were instrumental in helping to change over 20 years ago, they have declined to release any votes or minutes from closed sessions in which decisions may have been made regarding the suit, which could cost the city tens of thousands of dollars — if not more.
For many years, Crestwood was the region’s leader in transparent government. That’s not the case anymore, under City Attorney Lisa Stump of Lashly & Baer and her penchant for heavy-handed redactions of closed-session minutes and other documents.
We certainly understand the need for some sensitive legal issues to remain closed. But Stump’s overuse of redaction flies in the face of the spirit of the Missouri Sunshine Law.
While the minutes of the June 13 closed session meeting of the Sunset Hills board contain some redactions, the public knows which aldermen authorized the suit. Yet in the case of closed sessions of the Crestwood board on March 14, March 28, April 18 and May 9, the only votes made public were to approve sets of minutes and to adjourn the closed sessions.
We believe Crestwood citizens have a right to know who authorized the filing of this lawsuit. In the interest of transparency, if a vote was taken by the board, we urge aldermen to release it.