Gaines remains committed to Mehlville’s transparency

‘Call the Tune’ by Mike Anthony

By Mike Anthony

The Mehlville Board of Education is scheduled to consider approval of a contract to sell roughly 1.28 acres at 5950 Telegraph Road to a grocery store chain when it meets tonight — Thursday, June 8.

Selling or buying property is nothing unusual for a school district or any other governmental entity. What’s unusual is that the board will consider the contract to sell the property to Aldi for $815,000 during an open meeting and not in a closed session.

Superintendent Chris Gaines told the Call that the school district’s legal counsel said that under the provisions of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, also called the Sunshine Law, the board’s vote could be taken during a closed session. But Gaines said he wanted the vote to be open and accessible to the public.

Wow! How refreshing — a public official who actually wants to do public business in public and not behind closed doors.

That’s in stark contrast to the city of Crestwood’s continuing lack of transparency under City Attorney Lisa Stump’s ham-handed approach to the Sunshine Law. Stump’s view of the Sunshine Law appears to be at odds with the law itself, which 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.”

While we certainly blame Stump for the city’s continuing lack of transparency, the city’s elected officials are not without fault, as they can determine what closed-session votes and records can be made public.

A prime example is the lawsuit the city filed against the Affton Fire Protection District challenging the constitutionality of two state laws requiring the city to make annual payments to the fire district for an area the city annexed in 1997. City officials declined to release any votes or minutes from closed sessions in which decisions may have been made regarding the suit, which could cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars — if not hundreds of thousand of dollars.

Mayor Gregg Roby also declined to discuss whether the board’s vote to file the lawsuit was unanimous or even if a vote was taken by the board.

“I’m not at liberty to say. That was a closed session, and unless we’re told we can release that information by the city attorney, I would not comment on that,” he told the Call.

Given Roby’s comments, we can only conclude that city officials are taking great pains to hide something.