Mayor Welsch's Blog: Honoring the Sunshine Spirit
Thoughts on open government in University City.
Forty years after Missouri became one of the first states with a Sunshine Law ensuring that government meetings are open and accessible to the public, I am concerned that the spirit of the Sunshine Law is not being honored here in University City.
First some background and then some examples.
The Missouri Sunshine Law mandates that a tentative agenda for every public meeting be posted at least 24 hours in advance of the start of the meeting. This agenda is tentative because, as I have been told, those drafting the legislation understood that not all the business a public body needs or wants to handle at a meeting is, necessarily, known 24 hours in advance.
The agendas of our City Council regular sessions always list a beginning item called Approval of the Agenda. This is a time when Councilmembers or staff members have the option of adding an item to the evening’s agenda. Our habit has also been to discuss any changes to the agenda at any Study Session preceding a regular Council session.
But unfortunately, this has not been happening.
April 23, 2012: A motion to turn the lights back on at the Ruth Park Golf Course Driving Range. was not added to the Council agenda during preceding Study Session or at the top of the regular Council meeting but was nevertheless made and voted on. Some members of the Council and all members of the public had no advance notice that this contentious item would be discussed or that a vote would be requested. Citizens thus did not have a chance to provide their input prior to a vote.
Also, although University City’s ordinances state that ALL issues related to the City parks should first go to the Parks Commission for review, this did not happen.
June 11, 2012: A motion to accept the new City logo was not mentioned on the agenda but was made and voted on. Citizens again did not have a chance to provide their input prior to a vote.
July 9, 2012: A motion and vote concerning continued free parking in the U City Loop on our Lot #4 was not mentioned on the agenda but was nevertheless made and passed. Again, citizens did not have a chance to provide their input prior to a vote.
August 13, 2012: Another motion concerning continued free parking in the U City Loop on Lot #4 was not mentioned on the agenda but was nevertheless made and voted on. Yet again, citizens did not have a chance to provide their input prior to a vote.
In addition, since April 2012, when this new Council first convened, every closed Executive Session requested by members of Council has convened with no prior notice of the topic to be discussed. Three and sometimes four members of this Council have therefore entered the meetings with no idea of the discussion to be had.
This is not the way for any of us to do business.
This is not the way to respect the spirit of the Sunshine Law.
Members of the Council and the public would benefit if all who so often speak in support of the Sunshine Law would also commit to “living” the law – that means letting everyone know when matters will be discussed and votes will be requested; making sure all agendas are clear – for both public and closed sessions.
That is the right, “transparent” way to do business.