I've developed a healthy interest recently in the agendas of public governmental bodies. In fact, I'm collecting quite a cache of them. It's fascinating to see how various public bodies give notice of closed meetings.
What I am discovering, however, is a definite trend toward bodies simply announcing closed meetings and citing the same list of reasons (ie: exceptions) over and over. There are a large group of public bodies in the state that hold a closed meeting every time that they meet for 1) legal actions or causes of action; for 2) the purchase or sale of real estate AND for 3) hiring, firing, disciplining and promoting an employee. You'd never believe there's that much litigation, real estate transactions and personnel matters going on every week or month with public bodies. Is that even plausible? Let's not go there today.
Instead, let's consider this additional notice: "Other matters as authorized by Section 610.021 (4-21) as may be applicable" -- does language like that meet the requirements of the law?
The requirement in Section 610.022 as to giving notice of a closed meeting is very specific -- that notice must contain "the specific reason for closing that public meeting or vote" in short -- a specific reason, not a general recitation of possible reasons. And further, that reason must be "by reference to a specific section of this chapter." Indeed, the law goes on to say the notice must include a citation "to the specific exception allowed pursuant to the provisions of section 610.021."
I cannot believe that language like that cited above would be sufficient to meet this requirement. Why would the law bother to even require a public body to cite a specific reason if a general claim that all the exceptions in Section 610.021 come into play in holding this closed meeting were sufficient to meet the legal requirement. That would simply be worthless. Why bother to cite anything? Looks like you can hold a closed meeting any time, any where, for any reason. No need to cite any specifics at all.
But this language is in that statute for a reason. For a public body to flaunt it so broadly is a travesty. One can educate over and over again, but if this kind of behavior is permitted to pass for a legal notice, then the state should just give up having a sunshine law.
Some public bodies bother to do it right. Does that mean they are just naive to think they need to follow the law? It sure doesn't seem to make any difference in the greater scheme of things whether you follow the law or not. State Auditor Susan Montee can issue a huge list of violations and no one holds any of those public bodies accountable.
Having a law and just hoping that some bodies figure out how to follow it isn't enough. There needs desperately to be some incentive to understanding and following the law. But it doesn't exist today, that's for sure.