EDITORIAL: Sunset Hills officials take dim view of transparency

“Call the Tune” by Mike Anthony

By Mike Anthony

Until recently, we believed the city of Sunset Hills and its officials to be very transparent.

But given our recent interaction with some Sunset Hills officials, particularly City Clerk Laura Rider and City Attorney Robert E. Jones, we no longer believe that’s the case.

It’s obvious that Rider doesn’t have a clear understanding of the workings of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, also called the Sunshine Law. For example, when the Call’s Gloria Lloyd sent a Sunshine Law request to Rider by email, Rider responded, “Please complete the attached request form and return to me. Once I receive the form back from you I will begin processing your request. The city will not waive any fees associated with this request.”

Requesting someone to fill out a form for information is not a provision of the Sunshine Law. Delaying the response to a request also does not comply with the law.

During a telephone call with Rider regarding Lloyd’s request, Rider hung up on this columnist before we could explain that while we weren’t required to fill out the form, we would.

We deal with many city clerks — the vast majority are extremely professional and promptly return telephone calls and requests for information. Unfortunately, that can’t be said about Rider, who is difficult to reach by telephone and seldom returns telephone calls.

Typically, most governmental entities waive any charges for media Sunshine Law requests, as permitted under the law. But the city’s Sunshine Law policy, adopted in 2004, makes no provision for the waiving of fees.

So much for transparency.

But it’s not just Rider. Consider Jones, who essentially blew off a citizen who wanted specifics about a recommendation Jones made that has a serious financial impact on the city.

Mike Hogan, a former member of the city’s Finance Committee, recently asked Jones to explain his rationale for recommending the reclassification of New Balance’s business license, which will cost the city tens of thousands of dollars in tax revenue.

Jones’ response: “… I am sorry, but I cannot perform legal research or provide an opinion at the request of a resident. I must be directed by the mayor and/or the board to do so.”

It’s ironic that Jones had plenty of time to meet with New Balance representatives to discuss their request to ease their tax burden, but cannot respond to a simple inquiry from a citizen. So much for transparency.