Perhaps the August heat has gotten to the brains of some public officials in connection with the
performance of their duties.
One board of aldermen, I was told today, held a gathering. It cannot have been a meeting
because no notice was posted. (In fact, I understand, they are advocating that it was NOT a
meeting, but just a gathering of sorts. Perhaps they are right -- perhaps it was an illegal
meeting sort of meeting.)
This meeting/not-meeting was not held in city hall. No, it was held across the street from city
hall in front of the local beauty parlor. A quorum of the aldermen were there, and perhaps other
city officials. Also attending was the local police chief. He was told, when he arrived, that he
needed to resign. A discussion of the sort one can imagine ensued and the police chief, after a
few moments, declined to resign and therefore was told he was fired.
It is a little unclear if there are minutes of this closed meeting/not-meeting. It does appear
perhaps there was a vote in an open meeting several weeks before to hold a closed meeting for
personnel reasons (exception 3 of Section 610.021, one assumes). But the date of the closed
meeting which was voted on in this open meeting is a little unclear at this point in time.
However, it IS clear that there is no notice of this closed meeting posted.
It seems pretty clear a closed meeting took place, although I admit it's unusual to hold a meeting
of this type on the public street rather than in chambers of the aldermen in city hall. Certainly,
based on this set of facts, it would seem that a notice of a closed meeting should have been
One cannot help but wonder how a court would look at this set of facts. If indeed the notice
requirement was violated, Section 610.027.5 requires that a court must void any action taken if it
finds under the facts of the case that the public interest in enforcing the sunshine law policy
outweights the public interest in sustaining the validity of the action taken in the illegally closed
meeting. Would a court find that the public interest in enforcing the law was so high that the
firing should be voided? Would this mean the city owed the police chief additional wages from
the date he was terminated?
Such a determination could prove expensive for the city -- without even considering whether this
was a knowing or purposeful violation and whether fines and/or attorneys fees should be
City officials have an obligation when they take the role of governing citizens to act prudently
and properly under the law. Any business person knows that there are proper ways to fire an
employee if you don't want sued. Surely a city official is smart enough to apply similar logic to
operating the city business. Sloppy handling of city business can be costly for citizens.
Just one more reason city officials -- and all governmental officials -- need to familiarize
themselves with the sunshine law and be sensitive to its application in everyday affairs.