Tag Archives: sunshine

Sunshine Week Review of Local Government Web Sites

13 Mar

Sunshine Week is March 16-22 this year. This week is dedicated to promoting open government and the tools that we have to ensure access to information about government entities. In Missouri, it is the Sunshine Law that governs what records must be made available. Some cities, counties, and districts are more cooperative than others when it comes to sharing information.

In preparation for Sunshine Week, Watchdog Wire is asking people to review local government websites to see how useful they are to residents, using certain criteria. I’m going to talk a little about some of our local sites.

First we will start in Pevely. Pevely’s website is lacking. It contains no information on the city’s budgets or spending. It only offers alderman meeting agendas for two meetings at a time (usually the next meeting and the last meeting). As new agendas are added, old ones go away. These agendas are pretty bare-bones, too. Furthermore, no board minutes are posted. The addition of the board agendas is pretty recent, too.

The website does feature the names, photos, and e-mail addresses of aldermen. Last time I checked, the newest alderman was not listed, and there were no e-mail addresses, so some progress has been made here. However, we are not told when their terms are up or what their ward boundaries are.

Herculaneum’s site is better. It has board meeting minutes going back to late 2011. It also lists separate phone numbers for most departments, rather than having one central number to call (with an automated menu) to reach everybody. It lists more names of city employees, too. However, it also lacks budget and spending information.

Festus has an even better site. It has maps, including ward maps. It also has budgets going back to 2007, audited financial statements back to 2004, and lots of info on the various taxes you pay there. Online payment of water bills is also offered. But it also does not offer information on city expenditures.

Arnold’s website is better still. In addition to board minutes and agendas back to 2006, council packets are posted (as of now, they go back to January.) It would be nice if the packets were posted for a longer time period. Video of each meeting is also posted, back to 2010. This is the ultimate in openness, as it allows those who can’t make the meetings to watch the proceedings at their own convenience. I believe that it was Doris Borgelt who pushed for this to happen.

There is a lot of information on the city’s finance page. There are annual financial reports back to 2005, budgets to 2011, and general and payroll warrants back to 2012. The site also lists e-mail addresses of a number of department heads.

Of course, this is only a partial list of local governments. But it should give you an idea of what features you should expect to see on the websites of the entities that are relevant to you. You’re paying for all this government; you should be able to easily see what it is up to.

Advertisements

Backtracking on Transparency in Arnold

17 May

Since the April election returned a regime-friendly council to office, there have been several moves intended to reduce government transparency in Arnold. The new council did not waste time; these actions were taken at the April 18 meeting. The first was, as I have chronicled, to reappoint Randy Crisler to office after disclosing his name at almost the last minute. Second, in closed session at that same meeting, the council voted to waive the recently instituted requirement to provide agendas for closed sessions. This requirement was implemented after the regime used a stealth closed session maneuver to attempt to remove Ken Moss from office. Don Ron Counts made Moss an offer he couldn’t refuse, although Moss did refuse to resign quietly, and the Boone fiasco followed. The motion to stop providing closed session agendas was offered by new councilwoman Mary Coleman, a troubling sign that she has been assimilated. Notably, though, this vote was a mere formality, because city attorney Bob Sweeney decided unilaterally not to provide an agenda for the April 18 meeting. The council vote gave Sweeney after-the-fact approval of his actions.

Other anti-transparency moves, again done in closed session (inappropriately so), took place at this meeting. Ken Moss describes them here during the May 2 meeting (listen from 36:39 until 37:11):

Here’s his statement from the meeting minutes (p. 4):

“I do not approve that when we also went into our closed session that we also voted to not record closed sessions anymore and we also made a vote to not send out the attorney bills per email to the council members. I don’t agree with that but I also want to put it on the record that I don’t feel those were closed session items and should have taken place in public.”

This last part is correct. The Leader had an editorial not long ago about abuse of closed sessions. One would think the paper might object to the above. Not everything that happens in a closed session is secret, just because it happened in closed session, and conducting non-eligible activity in such a session is a Sunshine Law violation. Certain information from these meetings, even if eligible for closed session, is public record. In Perryville, MO, summaries of closed session activities, minus anything truly confidential, are published in the paper (at least they were on this occasion). The city (and the Leader) need to provide more, not less information about the council’s closed sessions.

And what’s this about the attorney’s bills? One of the main objections to the continued employment of Sweeney are the big bills he racks up. I guess he doesn’t want the council members to see these bills without going out of their way to acquire them. Maybe he doesn’t want the new council members to see them, start to ask questions, and waver in their loyalty to the regime as a result.

All of these moves bring up the old question, “What have you got to hide?” There is much, it seems.

Missouri AG Comes Down Hard on Arnold

22 Jul

Update 1: I was a bit confused. The AG is not asking for the sign-in list for the same date as Doris Borgelt was. They just asked for the list for June 19, the day the AG’s office sent the request. So, while the AG’s action will force the issue of releasability of the lists, we may not get to the bottom of who came to City Hall on Jan. 17, 2012, the date at the heart of this issue.

 

Update 2: Reading is hard. I would like to thank my commenters for pointing out some errors. Let’s summarize the AG’s threatened lawsuit, count by count, for clarity purposes.

1. Arnold failed to give timely response to Borgelt’s request for the sign-in log, made on March 2. The city had three days to respond, but did not respond in writing until June 15 (after the AG’s office got involved). This is a request for declaratory judgment.

2. Arnold did not provide Borgelt with the log, another request for declaratory judgement.

3. Arnold redacted names in the June 19 sign-in list submitted to the AG, request for declaratory judgment.

4. Arnold failed to respond to Borgelt in a timely manner (see count 1), knowing Sunshine Law violation, request for civil penalties and attorney’s fees.

5. Arnold did not provide Borgelt with the log (see count 2), knowing Sunshine Law violation, request for civil penalties and attorney’s fees.

6. Arnold redacted names in the June 19 sign-in list (see count 3), knowing Sunshine Law violation, request for civil penalties and attorney’s fees.

7. Arnold failed to respond to Borgelt in a timely manner (see counts 1 and 4), purposeful Sunshine Law request, request for civil penalties and attorney’s fees.

8. Arnold did not provide Borgelt with the log (see counts 2 and 5), purposeful Sunshine Law request, request for civil penalties and attorney’s fees.

9. Arnold redacted names in the June 19 sign-in list (see counts 3 and 6), purposeful Sunshine Law request, request for civil penalties and attorney’s fees.

10. Injunction against future Sunshine Law violations.

The suit requires the city to provide “the unredacted visitor log” in order to avert this lawsuit. While I imagine each day’s list as as discrete record, it appears that the AG refers to all of the daily sign-in sheets as one log. Therefore, I interpret this to mean the city must provide the lists for both the dates requested by Borgelt AND the AG. From Bob Sweeney’s statements, the log Borgelt wants has been disposed of. One would think then, that the AG’s request cannot be fulfilled, and that the suit must proceed. But I merely play a lawyer on TV, so I welcome (more) corrections.

==================================================================================

I wrote recently about the efforts of the city government in Arnold to keep its city hall sign-in logs private. When we last left off, the city was waiting for the state Attorney General’s response to Arnold’s hubrisitic submission of a redacted Jan. 17 sign-in list. On July 16, the AG responded in not a subtle way: with a threat of a lawsuit.

The AG’s letter calls the city’s claims “absurd” and “meritless” and states that Arnold will be sued with fines and attorney’s fees on the table if the list isn’t provided by July 23. The text of the lawsuit was attached. If you advance to the last page of the embedded document, you can see the redacted list the city sent (from June 19, 2012, as the AG requested) in all its glory.

So this ends the issue, right? Arnold will surely back down, won’t it, especially considering that the mayor said the following on July 12?

Mayor Ron Counts said, during the work session, city employees must provide past visitors’ information to any councilmen requesting the information.

“The public has the right to know who’s in the building,” Mayor Ron Counts said. “I’m happy to provide that information.”

Well, the answer to that is apparently no.

Borgelt said Friday that she had not received what she requested. Sweeney said that’s because the city usually didn’t keep the log for more than 30 days before throwing it out and that the log on the day requested by Borgelt had been discarded.

I can’t imagine the AG will take too kindly to this. We know the council voted in early June to not release the list, so they must have had it then, unless they had already trashed it, and the vote was just a bluff. So who discarded it, when, and at whose direction?

I found these humorous tidbits in the minutes of the June 21 council meeting:

  • “Attorney Sweeney then said he doesn’t believe that the Attorney Generals office is saying that they are going to fine us or call us out for not releasing these log sheets. They have simply said they disagree with our position” (p. 6 of the document). Looks like he believes wrong.
  • “Phil Amato reiterated the Attorney General’s opinion, is just that, an opinion” (p. 7). Um, yeah, but his opinion holds more weight than that of, say, some online commenter, Phil.
  • “[Sweeney] does not think this case has ever been litigated to the Attorney General’s office and feels it would be a good case to litigate” (p. 6). Do you still think that now, Bob? Well, he probably does because that means more legal fees for him.

It seems clear that what happened here was, the crony club thought the AG wouldn’t bother getting involved in a minor municipal matter such as this. Maybe they knew, deep down, that they were in the wrong on this, but since the AG wasn’t going to stop them, they could use bluster and bravado to talk their way out of this problem, while in the meantime trying to portray Doris Borgelt as just some crank. Well, the AG has called their bluff in a big way. And tomorrow, this dispute might move into the courtroom.

Meanwhile, it looks like Arnold is going to stop keeping a written sign-in list. The new policy the council agreed to calls for visitors to surrender an ID and verbally request to visit an employee. So what the city is saying is, “you want to see our public records? Well, we won’t collect them anymore. Ha!” It is amazing to see the city fighting like a wounded animal over this issue. What are they trying to hide?

%d bloggers like this: