The law is clear enough.
Public bodies in Missouri are allowed to close the door to the public to discuss a variety of issues, and chief among those is litigation. When the legal action is resolved, however, everything becomes public information. It’s really fairly simple.
Blue Springs City Hall, however, continues to drag out the very issue that Mayor Carson Ross said recently he hoped the city had resolved and put behind it. The city is refusing to let the public know how its elected officials acted, debated and voted to resolve a controversial issue.
The quick background: Developers want a gas station on Adams Dairy Parkway, and part of the deal is a “community improvement district,” a popular economic development tool to bump up the sales tax in a specific area and direct the money to the project. Some on the council supported it, some opposed it, and there was a stalemate. Then the developer sued.
The council revisited the issue last week, one council member switched his position, and now things can proceed. The lawsuit can go away.
But the city is dribbling out the details as slowly as possible and skirting if not violating Missouri’s Sunshine Law. The mayor and two council members signed the settlement to end the lawsuit last week. That action – the Sunshine Law calls it “final disposition” – makes the information public, but it still took a week for the city to provide The Examiner a copy of the agreement.
The city also refuses to make public the minutes of the March 16 closed session when these actions were taken. It’s the city’s position that the minutes don’t even exist because the council hasn’t met again to approve them (and won’t until April 6). We’ve always done it this way, the city says.
That doesn’t make it right. Jean Maneke, an attorney for the Missouri Press Association, is probably the state’s leading expert on the Sunshine Law, and she points to a couple of cases clearly indicating that those minutes should be open to the public now. She also points out that what officials allow to be reflected in the minutes can be arbitrary. It’s up to local governments.
What was the vote to settle the lawsuit? How did each of the six council members vote? Did Mayor Ross have to break a tie, as he did in open session on the zoning and tax questions related to this project? Will the city ever give a full accounting of what happened when the door was closed?
This is yet one more reason Missouri needs a tougher, more detailed Sunshine Law. Leaving the details up to the good judgment of local officials – leaving any wiggle room at all – simply does not cut it.
The full story? Blue Springs refusing to tell the public who voted for what
The law is clear enough.