Crestwood weighs posting audio of meetings on Web

By EVAN YOUNG

Crestwood residents soon may be able to hear exactly what goes on at Board of Aldermen meetings without ever having to set foot in City Hall.

The board recently directed city staff to draft a new policy calling for the posting of audio recordings of aldermanic meetings on Crestwood’s Web site.

Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild introduced the issue at last week’s board meeting. He noted that the city began recording its meetings in digital format this year. Making those audio files available online likely would increase citizen participation in — and the transparency of — Crestwood government, he said.

“Citizens can listen at their leisure, fast-forward through the non-relevant topics … and I think there might be some cost savings or efficiencies gained in the city clerk’s office by the reduction of the number of Sunshine (Law) requests fulfilled based on recordings,” Duchild said Oct. 27.

City Clerk Tina Flowers acknowledged that she currently uploads all documents to the Crestwood Web site, and that posting meeting audio would be her responsibility as well. However, she indicated the new service would free up time spent addressing open records’ requests.

“I’d greatly appreciate it,” she said of the proposal.

But Mayor Roy Robinson said the board should consider the costs involved with posting the recordings before “you jump into it.”

“There has to be costs associated with putting these things on our Web site …,” Robinson said. “Remember, the main thing is there is no requirement for us to put anything on the Web site, but we do that as a service to our community.”

The Sunshine Law — Missouri’s Open Meetings and Records Law — states that if a request is made for a public record in a certain format, “the public body shall provide the records in the requested format, if such format is available.”

While it doesn’t explicitly address official audio recordings of meetings, the law states that a “public governmental body keeping its records in an electronic format is strongly encouraged to provide access to its public records to members of the public in an electronic format. A public governmental body is strongly encouraged to make information available in useable electronic formats to the greatest extent feasible.”

Ward 1 Alderman Mimi Duncan said the training involved with creating and uploading audio files would be relatively simple, especially since Flowers already posts other documents on the city’s Web site.

“As long as we have the bandwidth to support this much information, and have a policy about … when it comes down and those kinds of things … I think it’s worthwhile moving forward,” she said.

City Administrator Jim Eckrich said he would have a policy prepared for board consideration by either the last regular aldermanic meeting in November or the first meeting in December.

In a separate matter involving the Sunshine Law, Crestwood resident Carol Wagner told aldermen that evening during a period for public comment that she was upset over a recent request for public records related to Crestwood Make A Difference Day, a day of volunteer community service held Oct. 24.

Communities around the country conduct their own versions of the event on the same day; Wagner has coordinated the annual Make A Difference Day program in Crestwood since 2006.

However, after a full-page color advertisement promoting this year’s event ran in a local newspaper, Wagner said she was notified that someone had requested copies of the advertising invoices — and apparently wanted to know who paid for the ad.

The ad ran twice, for a total cost of $1,407. Two invoices were sent to the Crestwood Police Department at City Hall, 1 Detjen Drive, which is where the Make A Difference Day ad states event supporters should send donations.

And while the ad itself — which did not run in the Call — stated Make A Difference Day was “sponsored by the city of Crestwood” and featured the city’s logo, Wagner told the board the city’s sponsorship was “in-kind,” or non-monetary, and that the Make A Difference Day group had its own, separate account.

She said the city provided organizers with space for registrations, lunch for volunteers at the Fire Department and other activities. Many other sponsors, such as Veolia Environmental Services, also donated goods or services instead of cash, she added.

“We had nothing financially to do with the city,” Wagner said.

She said the time city staff spent fulfilling the Sunshine Law requests was “ridiculous.”

“… Things like this is what creates the negative veil that’s over Crestwood right now, particularly up here on the employees,” she said. “I think that this board has to do everything that they can to bring back a positive outlook on this city and to do whatever it takes to move it forward, instead of questioning tiny little bills and bringing up nonsensical things, at least in my thinking.”

After Wagner spoke, fellow resident Char Braun told the board that a former alderman had requested the invoices, but she did not provide a name.

Wagner told the Call on Monday that Make A Difference Day is part of the city’s Neighborhood Watch program, which is why the invoices were delivered to city hall in care of the police department. She and Braun are members of the Neighborhood Watch committee; Wagner also serves as chair of the city’s Civil Service Board.

She said two people inquired about the purchase of the ad, and that copies of the invoices were furnished after the second request.

“There’s only a couple of people who are constantly trying to find something negative, or something that they can use as ammunition, they think,” Wagner said. “And what they really are is detriments. There’s one alderman that’s constantly wanting paperwork up there. It’s almost a weekly deal that I hear about. Now he’s costing the city a lot of money, because all of those employees cannot do their everyday jobs …

“Every employee up there is needed to make business run as normal, but they have to stop what they’re doing to comply with the (Sunshine Law) over nonsensical things that are neither here nor there.”

Wagner said even though bills related to Make A Difference Day were sent to the Police Department, the city never was obligated to pay them.

“It’s payable to us,” Wagner said. “We have formed an organization. There’s a president and a vice president to take care of the money. And we did this so that the money we had could carry over to the next year and it would be totally separate from any city finances. And that’s the way it was done in the beginning, and that’s the way it will stay.”