City councils and boards of aldermen must be falling into their summer doldrums. I'm beginning to get a bunch of calls relating to issues about sunshine law violations. Tom Sullivan, a devoted sunshine law advocate, emailed today about one going on in University City.
But I'm thinking about two situations that I had calls about that are interesting to me. One involved a board of aldermen that needed to discuss an important issue a few weeks ago. Not all could gather at the appointed time, so, instead, a group of four (one short of a quorum) decided to just meet at that well-known green-emblem coffee shop in town to talk about the issue, which clearly was public business. So far, so good.
Problem is that a fifth member happened in to get his caffeine fix and discovered the four gathered discussing matters. When he joined the group, a problem arose, as far as the sunshine law goes. There clearly was no public notice of this little tete a tete. Did they continue discussing public business? Did Mr. 5 realize that this presented a problem and leave before any discussion ensued? Did they change the subject and discuss the unseasonably cool weather we've recently seen in the state?
Guess who now wants to know? Apparently the Missouri Attorney General. Very interesting. We'll see how this plays out. Curious minds are waiting to hear.
In another part of the state, a board of aldermen met in closed session, properly noticed up, to discuss a personnel matter and ended up terminating an employee. They advised the public of the vote taken, but not of the reason why this person was terminated. On the sly, a local journalist hears that possibly a theft situation was involved. But it appears the city has decided not to press charges. And the reason it's being kept hush hush is to avoid the public outcry over the city deciding NOT to press charges.
I imagine (although I an not close enough to know) that rumors are running all around town. It is possible some of the aldermen will take heat over a decision not to take action and make a statement that theft of city property won't be tolerated. Is secrecy beneficial in such a situation? Would the aldermen be better served to just make the facts as they are known public and let the city's residents know what happened? This raises some tough questions, no doubt, because criminal accusations can be libelous.
I certainly can't say the city has done anything wrong. The public has no right under the sunshine law to see the reasons that gave rise to the termination. But the festering that may occur due to this secrecy will be interesting to watch.