By Stephanie Edwards
The City of Lee's Summit City Council is the subject of a Sunshine Law complaint made to the Missouri Attorney General's Office. The subject of the complaint is a motion made by Councilmember Chris Moreno during the December 8, 2016 regular council meeting. The motion was made during the Council Roundtable portion of the meeting and was, therefore, not included on the meeting agenda. The City was notified of the complaint in a letter from the attorney general's office dated February 27, 2017.
City attorney Brian Head said that the name of the complainant had not been given to the City.
The complaint alleges that the motion was in violation of the Sunshine Law, RSMo 610.020.1, which states “All governmental bodies shall give notice of time, date, and place of each meeting, and its tentative agenda, in a manner reasonably calculated to advise the public of the matters to be considered.”
But the City, in its answer to the complaint, pointed out that the motion made was administrative in nature and not legislation, Further, the City does not believe that the “use of the term 'Roundtable' on an agenda without a listing of items to be discussed during that Roundtable violates the 'Sunshine Law' or Section 610.020, RSMo, in any manner.” The response from the City was sent via email to Casey Lawrence, the Sunshine Law Coordinator with the Missouri State Attorney General's Office, on March 29, 2017.
The motion in question was made by Moreno and requested that the City Manager, working with the Lee's Summit Police Chief, reach out to the Jackson County Sheriff's Department to open a formal investigation into all purchases, transactions, communications involving any bids or purchases that may have violated state law, city law or policy and the communications involving those. The motion was seconded by Councilmember Phyllis Edson and passed 4-2. Councilmembers Edson, Moreno, Dave Mosby and Diane Seif voted in favor of the motion. Councilmembers Rob Binney and Craig Faith voted against it. Councilmembers Forte and Carlyle were absent.
Moreno was concerned over ethics violations he said that he had made public six months previously. He said that he had requested that an ethics policy be put into place four months before as well. He said that he did not feel his requests were being taken into consideration.
The motion was rescinded the next week. Councilmember Faith moved to rescind the motion during the Council Comments portion of the December 15, 2016 meeting, citing his belief that the investigation was premature.
In its response to the complaint, the City said that Lee's Summit is a charter city and that the City's Code informs the public what may be discussed during a “Roundtable.” The statute calls for a tentative agenda, which the City says it provides for all meetings.
The City said that state agencies frequently list reports as agenda items, without specifying what the report is about. The City went on to list a number of state agencies that commonly list agenda items without specific descriptions.
Lee's Summit City Government is made up of a mayor, eight councilors, and a professional city manager. The mayor and council are elected by the public, while the manager is hired based upon his or her merits. The City Charter, under Section 3.5 Administrative Policy Matters, directs how the council may communicate and direct the city manager. In his motion, Moreno mentioned Section 3.11 which directs how the Council may communicate with the manager with regard to investigations, Section 5.2 (g) allows the Council, as a group, to request reports from the city manager. “A review of minutes of past meetings reveals this is the time that Council speaks with the manager about items they would like to have done or more information provided,” the City responded. The use of Roundtable time in this manner was not unusual.
The City does not believe that the statutory law was violated and states that there is no dispute that a tentative agenda was provided for the December 8, 2016 Council meeting, on which the Roundtable portion was listed.
The City maintains that no legislation or resolutions are enacted during Roundtable discussions.“The action resulting from Councilmember Moreno speaking was passage of a motion which was then rescinded the following meeting during the the Council Comment period.”
The City contends in the response that allowing the use of sections on the agenda such as Roundtable, Council Comments, Public Comments, new business, and other such portions when the specific items to be discussed are not listed is “not practical and impossible to do.” Discussions from the Council or the public may take place during the course of the meeting depending on what each decides at the time to do. Roubdtable, the City says, is the time for the member of the council to bring up what is on the member's mind at the time of their choosing. Even if the motion should not have been brought up during Roundtable but in Council Comments, it is the mayor's discretion whether to enforce that or not, and not reviewable under the Sunshine Law, the City contends.
The city attorney said that a response has not come from the attorney general's office at this point in time.