A week after the Blue Springs City Council approved a lawsuit settlement during a closed session, minutes from the meeting remain unavailable for public viewing, raising questions about the city’s adherance to Missouri’s Sunshine Law.

A week after the Blue Springs City Council approved a lawsuit settlement during a closed session, minutes from the meeting remain unavailable for public viewing, raising questions about the city’s adherance to Missouri’s Sunshine Law.

The city is denying a request by The Blue Springs Examiner for a copy of the minutes. City Attorney Bob McDonald said the minutes would be made open record after the next City Council meeting April 6, when they are approved by the council.

The minutes of the executive session should document the voting record of the council on the settlement agreement the city reached during executive session over a lawsuit filed by Adams Dairy Investor’s Group, seeking a combined $11.2 million for alleged violations of due process and one council member’s public remarks.

“This is the way we’ve always done it, and in 25 years or so of doing this, I can’t really ever remember a dispute over it,” McDonald told The Examiner Wednesday.

However, Jean Maneke, an attorney for the Missouri Press Association, said she believes the city is in violation of the Sunshine Law.

“There’s no question that the settlement has been approved,” Maneke said. “Any documents relating to it must be open for public viewing.”

McDonald said he is familiar with the Sunshine Law, too, but has a differing opinion.

“I am sure Jean Maneke and some others may not agree with me, and there are others that do not agree with her,” he said. “I have reviewed the cases she cites and I do not think they pertain to this situation. These are not  minutes, or even a draft of the minutes, until they are approved by the people that were at the meeting.”

The Examiner also sent a request to the city of Independence for the minutes of an executive session held Monday night. The Examiner requested the information Wednesday, and received the action items of the closed session, in draft form, an hour later. It showed the roll call vote, member by member, of a litigation matter, but further information was not available.

“Minutes of closed sessions are considered closed record, and therefore, not available to the public,” wrote City Clerk Jane Pickett Sharon in an e-mail asking for additional information about the litigation. “Any reportable actions taken in closed sessions, however, are posted as required by State law.”

McDonald said Blue Springs has never made the draft minutes of an executive session open record during his tenure, and he is not going to start now.

“Nobody is trying to hide anything,” McDonald said. “Once they are approved, we will release them.”

Maneke said two cases documented in the Missouri Sunshine Law illustrate her contention that the city is in violation.

The most relevant case – Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services v. Allan – explained that “a preliminary draft of a report prepared by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs in possession of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is a public record because it is a record retained by a public governmental body.

“Section 610.010(6) does not require a record to be in final form.”

Another case – Hemeyer v. KRCG-TV – explained that a temporary record, in this case a videotape, created by a police department is a public record if it is, again, being retained by the public governmental body.

Section 610.021 of the Missouri Sunshine Law states that “any minutes, vote or settlement agreement relating to legal actions, causes of action or litigation involving a public governmental body or any agent or entity representing its interests or acting on its behalf or with its authority... shall be made public upon final disposition of the matter voted upon or upon the signing by the parties of the settlement agreement.”

Unless, of course, the settlement and related documents are ordered closed by a court.

Last week’s closed-door session, which was held to discuss and vote on a proposed lawsuit agreement between the city and Adams Dairy Investor’s Group, concluded with a signed agreement. In it, the city agreed to specific terms and conditions, including allowing rezoning to accommodate a gas station on Adams Dairy Parkway and the formation of a community improvement district. The CID lets the developers assess a 1 percent sales tax within 15 acres of the proposed Parkway Place and Parkway West project to fund street and infrastructure improvements paid for up front.

That amount has been estimated to be about $812,000.

In addition, the city waived all permit, license, and inspection fees related to the project up to $115,000, prompting outcries from some council members.

Two of the six council members disclosed how they voted, but the actual vote could not be confirmed by the minutes. A council member who asked not to be named said earlier this week that the vote was 3-3, with Mayor Carson Ross breaking the tie in favor of accepting the agreement.

Maneke said it’s difficult to know exactly what the minutes will document.

“It’s up to each city to decide what to include in their minutes,” she said. “The vote will be included, yes, but beyond that, it’s difficult to tell.”

Dale Brendel contributed to this story.