Unanimous Crestwood board wants notice policy in writing

Bland challenges media to request meeting notices; Mayor Robinson ‘tired of getting beaten up’

By BURKE WASSON

Now that Crestwood’s administration is providing public-meeting notices to news media, aldermen want to ensure the sun will continue to shine by putting the new policy in writing.

The Board of Aldermen last week unanimously directed city staff to draft a resolution confirming the city’s new practice of providing meeting notices when requested by the media.

The resolution was recommended in a motion made by board President Gregg Roby of Ward 3 and seconded by Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland.

Aldermen voted to take action July 10 after City Administrator Frank Myers reversed a previous administrative policy of not providing meeting notices to any media — even those that request such notices.

That policy was decided internally and was never brought to aldermen’s attention.

Myers has said the former policy implemented in January was formulated because the city would show favoritism by providing notices to media requesting them and not providing them to those that don’t.

But Bland believes the concern of media favoritism only protects media outlets that do not request such notices and discourages those that do.

“If there is a perception of favoritism, I guess what I would say is I would challenge the other publications who aren’t requesting that information to also request that information,” Bland said.

Missouri Press Association attorney Jean Maneke previously told the Call that the city’s administrative policy violates the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, also known as the Sunshine Law.

The Sunshine Law states that governments are required to make “reasonable notice” of public meetings available to any news media requesting such notice. That notice also must be available at the same time it is available to members of that government body.

While Myers and City Attorney Robert Golterman dispute that the city’s former policy violated state law because the city has put meeting notices on its Web site, the city administrator still decided to change the administrative policy because it was not in the spirit of open government. As for the previous policy, Myers has taken “full responsibility.”

On Jan. 19, the Call requested meeting notices to all boards and commissions in the city, but had been denied until recent weeks after Myers decided to change the policy. Because such a policy regarding public meetings was never brought to aldermen’s attention, Bland last week said it essentially undermined the Board of Aldermen’s role in city affairs.

“I guess I do take some issue to what has happened because this is apparently some sort of a policy that I knew nothing about,” Bland said. “And it did not come here before the board, yet it directly impacts what we do here on the board. And as I said in the paper and I’ll say it again, I think that marginalizes every one of us sitting up here. And the last time I checked the city charter, it clearly outlines the duties of everybody involved in the city government. And I’m not sure that policy was in the best interest of good city government.”

Before Roby’s motion was put to a vote, Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder questioned whether making news media aware of public meetings is the city’s responsibility.

“The burden is not necessarily the city’s to notify anybody and everybody that wants to be notified …,” Nieder said. “It is also the partial responsibility of the individual who’s interested to contact the city. And there are methods, obviously, to do that — phone, faxes and I know not everybody has a computer, but I think almost everybody has a telephone. So how are we supposed to make sure that we cover everybody that wants to be notified with this policy? That’s my question.”

“If they request it, you need to provide it,” Roby replied. “And that’s what the Sunshine Law states.”

Maneke’s previous assertion that the former policy violated state law also cited a 1993 opinion from Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon that states a government body “will need” to fax or even hand deliver a copy of a meeting notice to any media representative who requests such notice.

Nixon’s opinion states: “It may be the public governmental body will have the notice prepared far enough before the meeting that a copy can be mailed to the business address of a (media) representative. It may be the public governmental body will need to fax a copy to the office of a (media) representative or have a copy hand delivered to the office of a (media) representative.”

But Golterman said last week that he disagrees with Maneke’s assertion and that her interpretation of the attorney general’s opinion is more “broad” than his.

“Yeah, there is an attorney general’s opinion,” Golterman said. “But the lawyer for the press association might read that much more broadly than I would.”

Despite Golterman’s position that the city is following legal requirements of notifying the media and citizens by posting meeting notices on the city’s Web site, Bland said he does not believe the Web site should be the only method.

“I don’t think posting what we do on the Web site is acceptable because I’d be willing to bet if you took a poll of the citizens of the city, you would find a larger-than-expected percentage of people that don’t get on the Internet, don’t have the Internet and don’t have a computer,” Bland said. “So I think we’re doing a great disservice.”

Mayor Roy Robinson, who does not believe the city’s previous policy violated state law, last week criticized the Call’s coverage of that policy.

“I just want to say that I’ve got beaten to death over this,” Robinson said. “I was supposed to have known about it. Fortunate for me, and at no fault of the city, I was out of town when I was sent an e-mail notified by the staff that the decision was made while I was out. I had nothing to do with it.

“However, I don’t have any secrets either and I don’t keep any secrets. I’m a pretty open person. And I was offended that people who hate me for the reason that I was elected mayor decide every time that they get a word misspelled or they find … something that they can accuse me of to print it out in the press that I was a big secret and I don’t have any leadership.

“Well, the only thing I can say to the people today is I may not have a lot of leadership, but we’re in a lot better situation to-day than we were when I came into office. I can honestly say that. And we’re also financially better off and we have an excellent staff to prove that it can be done.

“That doesn’t say somebody else could do it better. I’ll say that there’s probably plenty of people that could do a better job. But nobody has more dedication and desire to make Crestwood a better place than I do. And I’m proud of what we’ve done over the last two or three years.

“And I don’t care about newspaper articles that are very biased and have done nothing but criticize even our good times. So if there’s anybody that ought to be PO’d, no individual alderman was called on the carpet, but I was called on the carpet because of no matter what anybody does. Whether it’s you or an individual alderman or if the city administrator makes a decision. He has the right to make some of these decisions. And he doesn’t have to come to me on all this. He has always followed the law. He talked to the city attorney. The city attorney provided him a legal opinion … We followed the state statute, and I think we’d stand up in court and win in court if we had to defend ourselves …

“Everybody on this board is concerned about whether or not we should have private meetings and all. But we’ve done nothing. We do everything out in the open. I don’t even meet with most of these board members or the city administrator the two weeks we’re away. So we don’t, we’re not getting together and conniving to do something deceitful …

“I’m just tired of getting beaten up. I don’t get that beaten up in any other paper except the ones that wrote to oppose that. And I am sick and tired of those biased people who have no other thing and nothing else to do but create controversy not only in this city, but all over the county or the south county area. So if they don’t like it, that’s tough.”

Immediately after Robinson’s criticism, aldermen unanimously voted to draft the meeting-notice resolution.