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Musings: Missouri Attorney General’s Office Asks For Response from Clay County Commission

I have received several questions about the legality of the Clay County Commission’s actions from the Commission meetings over the last month. As reported, the Commission has gone into unnoticed Executive Session in multiple meetings in the last month (you can read the news stories by clicking HERE, HERE, and HERE.)

Those that have contacted me believe that going into an early session is in violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law.

I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the Interwebs, so I decided to reach out to Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office before the last Commission meeting to see if I could get some questions answered.

I received a response from the Missouri AGs office this morning. It appears that Hawley’s office has requested a response from the Commission explaining the actions. Please note, there is no determination of the legality of the action in the letter that was sent to the Commissioners.

Clay County Commission

c/o Mr. Jerry Nolte

Presiding Commissioner 1 Courthouse Square

Liberty, Missouri 64068

 

Re: Sunshine Law Complaint

Dear Commissioners,

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office received a Sunshine Law complaint regarding the Clay County Commission meeting on January 23, 2017. The complainant is concerned that the Commission held a closed session during the original meeting

Our office accessed the records for the January 23, 2017 meeting published on Clay County’s website and noted that the posted agenda did not indicate that the body intended to discuss matters during a closed session.

The Missouri Sunshine Law addresses the procedures for closing a portion of a meeting in 610.022.1 &.2, RSMo

  1. Except as set forth in subsection 2 of this section, no meeting or vote may be closed without an affirmative public vote of the majority of a quorum of the public governmental body. The vote of each member of the public governmental body on the question of closing a public meeting or vote and the specific reason for closing that public meeting or vote by reference to a specific section of this chapter shall be announced publicly at an open meeting of the governmental body and entered into the minutes.
  2. A public governmental body proposing to hold a closed meeting or vote shall give notice of the time, date and place of such closed meeting or vote and the reason for holding it by reference to the specific exception allowed pursuant to the provisions of section 610.021. Such notice shall comply with the procedures set forth in section 610.020 for notice of a public meeting.

Please provide our office with a response to this complaint along with a copy of the commission’s meeting minutes for January 23, 2017. We hope to receive your response as soon as possible, and no later than February 20, 2017. If you have any questions, or concerns, please contact our office.

You can also see the actual letter by clicking HERE.

I responded to the Missouri AGs office this afternoon with the story and video from the last Commission meeting. I’ve also received additional questions about the passage of 2017-64. This is the ordinance that removed the Custodian of Records designation from the Clay County Clerk’s office.

There are a couple of concerns that have been brought to my attention.

First, did the Commission act inappropriately by suspending the rules to pass the ordinances 2017-65 and 2017-64, neither were not noticed on the original agenda that was posted for the public. Second, is the action itself legal.

I also expressed concern to the Attorney General’s office about my most recent Sunshine Request and the cost that was assessed. As I mentioned in an editorial that I published over the weekend, I feel that the amount of money that was charged for the request was not equivalent to the work that was involved.

I had an individual reach out to me who works for a large company in the area. This individual has responsibilities that involve the maintenance of his companies email accounts. He was familiar with the process of exporting a .pst file inside of Microsoft Exchange Server. He also told me that in his professional opinion a three hour charge was excessive for what I requested.

In my opinion, one of the weaknesses of Missouri Sunshine Law is it allows for a lot of gray area for the charges assessed on a records request. It can become a weapon of those in office who want to deter the public from asking questions of its elected officials. I was charged three hours, but I have no way of holding the County accountable to see if 30 minutes or 3 hours was spent in producing my request.

It’s undeniable that citizens have a reason to have concern with the Commission’s actions, especially the move of the Custodian of Records designation. As Ms. Ridgeway stated just before it happened, “It’s not my intent to have any discussion, it will rise and fall on it’s own merits.”

Wait, I’m confused… Why not discuss it?

I thought things were transparent around here…

 

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