Crestwood board tables meeting-notice resolution

Robinson: ‘We do comply with the law’

Roy Robinson

Roy Robinson

By BURKE WASSON

If Crestwood aldermen are going to make a resolution out of the city’s recently formed policy of providing meeting notices to media, they indicated last week that it should be reworded.

The Board of Aldermen unanimously approved a second motion on July 24 to table a resolution confirming the new policy. Aldermen voted to table the resolution until City Attorney Robert Golterman could further study its language.

Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel and Ward 4 Alderman John Foote had concerns whether the word “copies” could be defined as hard copies or e-mails of notices.

Additionally, Ward 1 Alderman Mac McGee said a stipulation that the “City Clerk’s Office will make every effort to provide notices in the form or manner requested by the news media …” might be difficult to carry out if the city clerk were absent at the time of a request.

While aldermen originally voted 5-3 against a motion to table made by Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder and seconded by McGee, Foote then made a second motion, which was unanimously approved.

During the first motion to table, only McGee, Miguel and Nieder voted in favor.

Previously, the Board of Aldermen unanimously directed city staff on July 10 to draft a resolution confirming the city’s new practice of providing meeting notices to any news media requesting them.

The resolution was recommended in a motion made by board President Gregg Roby of Ward 3 and seconded by Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland.

Aldermen voted to draft the resolution after City Administrator Frank Myers reversed a previous administrative policy of not providing meeting notices to any media. That policy was decided internally and was never brought to aldermen’s attention.

Myers has said the former policy implemented in January was constructed because the city would show favoritism by providing notices to media requesting them and not providing them to those that don’t.

On Jan. 19, the Call requested meeting notices to all boards and commissions in the city, but had been denied until recent weeks after Myers decided to change the policy. Missouri Press Association attorney Jean Maneke has said that Crestwood’s previous administrative policy set in January violated the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, also known as the Sunshine Law.

The Sunshine Law states that governments are required to make “reasonable notice” of public meetings available to any news media requesting such notice. That notice also must be available at the same time it is available to members of that government body.

While Myers, Golterman and Mayor Roy Robinson dispute that the city’s former policy violated state law because the city has put meeting notices on its Web site, the city administrator still decided to change the administrative policy because it was not in the spirit of open government. As for the previous policy, Myers has taken “full responsibility.”

Maneke’s statement that Crestwood’s former policy violated state law also pointed to a 1993 opinion from Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon that states a government body “will need” to fax or even hand deliver a copy of a meeting notice to any media representative who requests such notice.

But Miguel said he is concerned that in the proposed resolution’s current form, its language is ambiguous enough to “burden” city staff.

“I’m all for notifying the media, but I had a couple of questions or comments on this …,” Miguel said. “Copies implies, to me, a hard copy, something I can get my hands on. I think, I feel that today’s technology provides adequate notification for e-mail. And I don’t want to place an undue burden on the city staff in order to issue notices to everyone that might want to be notified. So I’m concerned about the burden this may put on the staff …

“I also suggest that the city has a monthly meeting schedule, which is readily available on the Web site. If it isn’t, I think it could be made available on the Web site, which means that really the only thing that the city would need to notify anyone would be special meetings. And I think that that’s really what … again, to reduce the staff, the burden on staff as much as possible that a resolution could incorporate that thought there that hey, normally you can find out what’s going on by looking at the city Web site. If there’s any special meetings or a TDD meeting, fine. We’ll send you a notice.”

While Miguel is concerned about the definition of “copies” in the resolution, it further states that “the practice of sending notices by e-mail and/or facsimile is deemed appropriate …”

McGee said because most of the city’s meetings have been posted on the city’s Web site this year, he believes the news media already had adequate notice.

“From January this year until June … we had a Web site,” McGee said. “We’ve still got it. And the news media got notification of all our meetings and everything. OK? It went on for six months. And if I remember correct, correct me if I’m wrong, but at the end of that time, one of the representatives from the Call, I believe it was, didn’t make a special meeting. Why? I don’t know.

“Maybe he or she forgot it or didn’t read the Web site. Because it was on the Web site. That’s been verified. So then all of a sudden, here we’ve got all this. We’re creating … it’s more work for the city administrator, people. I don’t know how much. But it’s got to be more. And we had something that went on for six months and there was no problem … It’s just another thing that we’re doing that’s unnecessary and it’s affecting our time. Now I’m not sitting here saying don’t cooperate with the media. We have and we will. But in the form it’s been presented here now, I think it needs to be revised some.”

Nieder went as far as to say he believes the resolution should not be considered at this time because he believes it is media’s responsibility — not the city’s — to be notified of meetings.

“Where’s this burden of responsibility shifted to as far as notification?” Nieder said. “I believe that the city was making the correct decision in that the notifications, if I am correct here, were all posted on the board on the Internet and were immediately available. So there was no intent to alleviate anybody, dismiss anybody, forget anybody or that sort. I believe it’s the responsibility of the individual, whether it be a company or an individual person or whatever, who wants to get involved and know more about what’s going on with the city to take it upon themselves and put the responsibility on their shoulders to get involved and find out what’s going on and when these meetings are taking place — pure and simple. It is not our duty to invite you to every meeting that we have.”

While Foote first voted against tabling the resolution, he later changed his mind after hearing from Robinson that he does not agree with Maneke’s statement that the city’s former policy violated the Sunshine Law.

“The spirit is to follow the law of the Sunshine provisions,” Foote said. “And the city administrator has taken on that responsibility and the board president has backed that and a number of us feel that it is in compliance with the law. Maybe the way the word is written, the word ‘copies’ maybe could be addressed better. Maybe it needs a little more work. I don’t have the answer, but we need to comply with the law.”

“We do comply with the law,” Robinson said.

“Then as long as we’re complying with the law, where is the problem?” Foote said.

“I don’t know,” Robinson said.

“Either we are in compliance or we’re not,” Foote said. “Maybe if we are in compliance with it, so be it. Then the resolution may not be required.”