A caller today told me about his local city council and mayor who are creating turmoil in their fair city over real estate negotiations.
The council is holding closed meetings to discuss, it is thought, the city's lease of real estate from a party and the subsequent lease by the city of the same real estate to another party. If that is true, such a discussion probably falls within the provisions of Exception 2 to Section 610.021, and probably can be closed. BUT another party has suddenly taken an interest in that real estate and with questions being raised, citizens in the community want to know what is going on. Suddenly, it has become known that the city mayor and council have signed confidentiality agreements with one of the parties to not discuss any of these negotiations in public.
While I cannot argue that the meetings are illegally closed, surely the city should have known that it could not sign a carte blanche confidentiality agreement with anyone. What does this agreement say? Citizens can't find out because it's SECRET! Did the city violate the sunshine law signing this agreement? We'll never know because it's SECRET! Does it promise confidentiality beyond what the sunshine law permits? They can't tell you because it's SECRET!
The sunshine law was created to allow public governmental bodies some perimeters for closing matters that need to be closed for limited times and purposes. Anything falling outside the scope of this law is probably wrong and certainly raises suspicions that it is illegal.
But beyond that, when a public body looks around its meeting place and sees scores of citizens, angry citizens, wanting to know the truth, it should think twice before telling them to sit down and shut up. Those are voters out there and they have a right to know about city business. It's their business, not your business. City officials who make a practice of taking actions in secret lose their credibility with voters.
Perhaps this city's officials should go back to the party who wanted this confidentiality agreement and seek release from its terms. If they don't, perhaps it is THEIR terms they will need to worry about.