Ex-elected officials need to review Sunshine Law

By Mike Anthony

We believe those who run for public office should take some time to acquaint themselves with the laws that govern public bodies, particularly the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, also called the Sunshine Law.

From what we can tell, at least two former Crestwood aldermen seem very unfamiliar with the provisions of the law. At the Oct. 22 Crestwood Board of Aldermen meeting, the two former aldermen — Mimi Duncan of Ward 1 and Deborah Beezley of Ward 4 — said they took exception with former Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder using a video camera to record the meeting.

Also voicing her displeasure with Nieder’s use of a video camera was resident Carol Wagner, a former chair of the city’s Civil Service Board.

We’re puzzled by their objections because the Sunshine Law states, “A public body shall allow for the recording by audiotape, videotape or other electronic means of any open meeting.”

We don’t believe it could be much clearer than that. The Sunshine Law goes on to state, “A public body may establish guidelines regarding the manner in which such recording is conducted so as to minimize disruption to the meeting.”

Crestwood’s open-meetings policy currently is one of the best in the state, as it requires that meetings of all boards, commissions and committees be tape-recorded and retained by the city for one year. The policy also requires that closed meetings of the Board of Aldermen involving litigation and real estate be tape-recorded.

Those taping requirements exceed those of the Sunshine Law.

For those who believe in open government, a video recording of the meeting of a public body is another tool to ensure elected officials remain accountable to the public. Some public bodies — the Mehlville Board of Education and the County Council — video record their meetings, which can be viewed on YouTube.

We applaud Crestwood resident David Brophy, who eloquently defended the public’s right to record Board of Aldermen meetings.

“We live in a land of free speech,” Brophy told the board, “but free speech in a public space does not allow one to hide from the public …”

So be forewarned — if you plan on attending an aldermanic meeting and elect to address the board, an audio record will be made of your comments.

And if a resident wants to use a video camera to record the meeting, that’s his or her right under the law.