Forecast for transparency still cloudy in Crestwood

‘Call the Tune’ by Mike Anthony

By Mike Anthony

Once again, a report issued by Auditor Nicole Galloway found governing bodies routinely violate provisions of the Open Meetings and Records Act, also called the Sunshine Law.

We say once again because a 2015 report by Galloway came to the same conclusion, as did reports issued in 2012 and 2014 by Galloway’s predecessor, the late Tom Schweich.

In Galloway’s most recent report, only 30 percent of local governments fully complied with Sunshine Law requests sent by the auditor’s office to more than 300 political subdivisions.

The requests sought a copy of minutes for the last meeting of 2015, plus the notice and agenda for that meeting, and were not sent on official letterhead. Of the entities sent requests, 37 percent failed to acknowledge them or respond within the required three days. Some eventually did respond, but 16 percent never did.

Crestwood was among the cities included in the report, and City Administrator Kris Simpson tweeted, “Happy that Crestwood passed the test with flying colors. We completely satisfied the request in one business day.”

Yet as readers may recall, Crestwood was criticized earlier this year by Jean Maneke, an attorney who represents the Missouri Press Association. She questioned the city’s use of a Sunshine Law exemption for a closed session in which aldermen met with county police Chief Jon Belmar.

The Jan. 25 closed session was convened to discuss legal matters and “sealed bids and related documents, until the bids are opened; and sealed proposals and related documents or any documents related to a negotiated contract until a contract is executed, or all proposals are rejected.”

Simpson cited the second reason as permitting the closed-door meeting with Belmar, although he acknowledged to the Call that aldermen had not authorized any negotiations.

Maneke questioned the city’s use of the exemption, saying, “… The city has no documents in hand related to a contract they are negotiating, so I believe it is difficult to argue that this is a proper discussion for a closed meeting, based on what city officials have released to the public.”

The Sunshine Law states that its provisions “shall be liberally construed,” while exceptions that permit entities to meet in closed session and keep certain records closed shall be “strictly construed.” But given City Attorney Lisa Stump’s overly broad interpretations of those exceptions, we believe the Sunshine Law forecast in Crestwood remains a bit cloudy.