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Council Accuses Mayor of Releasing Confidential Documents

The legal opinions from the city's attorney were included in Sunday's University City Bulletin Board email newsletter.

A relatively quiet and quick-moving University City City Council meeting Monday came to a screeching halt as council members, the mayor, the city attorney and members of the audience debated whether Mayor Shelley Welsch violated Missouri's Sunshine Law in her University City Bulletin Board email Sunday night.

In the weekly email news blast, the Mayor included information from City Attorney Paul Martin regarding a vote held at the last council meeting as well as the full text of Martin's legal opinion on the University City/Olivette intergovernmental meeting. 

Councilwoman Paulette Carr, Ward 2, brought the issue up during council comments, which follow the majority of the council agenda. 

Carr said she was "shocked and dismayed" to see the information in her inbox at 6:02 p.m. Sunday. 

"This is a confidential document," she said. "It was reprinted in a newsletter."

Carr noted the PDF file of the memo, which was attached to the email, reads:

"It is the opinion of the author that this document constitutes a privileged communication between a governmental body and its attorney and may be maintained as a closed record in accord with the provisions of Section 610.021(1) RSMo. 2010." 

"At no time did the council discuss releasing these documents as public and yet confidential documents were put out in the public domain," Carr said. 

Councilman Terry Crow, Ward 1, asked Martin if the City of University City had adopted the Missouri Sunshine Laws and its open records provisions. He then asked Martin to confirm that under the law, privileged communication between the city and its attorney could only be opened by a vote of the city's council. 

When questioned by Crow, an attorney himself, Martin said that the release of the document via an email newsletter to residents did 'open' the records, making them part of the public domain.

The intergovernmental agreement memo is attached to this story.

Councilman Stephen Kraft, Ward 1, noted that much of the information in Martin's opinion was brought up in a public Council meeting on the intergovernmental agreement. He added that this wasn't a personnel issue and the information was not part of a lawsuite against the city.

"Is there anything in here that you would advise us to keep quiet?" he asked Martin.

Crow noted the Council set a precendent in November when it voted to open Martin's opinion on public/private streets in order to clear up misconceptions in the public.

School Resolution

Councilman Byron Price repeatedly asked Mayor Welsch what her intent was when she released the information to the public. He asked her to explain the release of information.

Welsch said repeatedly she would be happy to meet with Price to discuss the issue but she would not do it during Monday's meeting.

"I'm perplexed as to where there is a better forum," Crow told the Mayor. 

Price suggested that the information on the so-called illegal resolution of Jan. 30 might be defamatory to the School District of University City.

At that meeting, the City Council approved a resolution to support the District's Prop U bond issue, which is on the April 2 ballot. The vote on the measure was 4-1-1. Councilmembers Arthur Sharpe Jr., Price, Carr and Crow voted in favor of the resolution. Councilman Michael Glickert voted against and Mayor Welsch abstained. Councilman Kraft was not at the meeting. 

According to Welsch's email, a resident questioned the legality of the resolution after the meeting. Martin's opinion on the vote was included in the email blast and reads as follows:

Section 115.646, however, provides as follows:

No contribution or expenditure of public funds shall be made directly by any officer, employee or agent of any political subdivision to advocate, support, or oppose any ballot measure or candidate for public office. This section shall not be construed to prohibit any public official of a political subdivision from making public appearances or from issuing press releases concerning any such ballot measure.

Preparing and submitting a resolution supporting a ballot proposition, even one germane to another jurisdiction, involves the use of public resources, and very likely constitutes an expenditure of public funds to advocate a ballot measure. The city's resolution probably violates this statute, but please note that the statute does not prohibit any public officials from personal advocacy. The prohibition only extends to the use of public funds to do so.

Welsch's email states that Martin has recommended the Council refrain from future resolutions supporting ballot measures, whether they be the city's or another taxing entity.

Carr noted that the resolution for the schools was drawn up by Councilman Price and not by city staff. City Manager Lehman Walker estimated that City Clerk Joyce Pumm spent roughly an hour cleaning up language. He put the cost to the city at $27.

Resident Reaction

Resident and candidate for School Board Edward McCarthy told the board that under Sunshine Law the opinion may be confidential but didn't have to be. He said the bigger issue was vote on the bond issue.

"The four of you that voted for the resolution—you broke the law," he said. "That's your lawyer's opinion. You have to ring the bell because you are still in violation of the law and it's out in the open."

Carr countered that the release of the documents was a violation of the Open Records statute.

Gregory Pace told the Council he felt he "brought a pea-shooter to a gun fight."

"This discussion has gone on for several minutes," he said. "Shame on you for not putting it on the agenda so I could do my research before coming to the meeting." 

No action was taken in open session on the document release or the resolution from Jan. 30. The Council adjourned to an executive session at 8:06 p.m. to discuss the issue.

University City Patch will have more information as it becomes available.

cam February 12, 2013 at 03:32 PM
Anybody on the council notice that Dr. Jordan received 2013 Missouri Principal of the Year award? Can't you pass a resolution congratulating her and promoting our school district instead of over-reaching to find something to fight about?
Irv Logan February 12, 2013 at 04:21 PM
Help me to understand? What part of may be in " may be maintained as a closed record in accord with the provisions of section 610.021 (1) RSMo. 2010 " was unclear to the lawyers and "wannabe" lawyers on the Council? If the City's attorney reviewed the document and approved it's use...as a public document... why is that not enough for the Mayor to act? It seems that the real issue here is a need, on the part of some members of the Council, to obstruct communications between the Mayor and the citizens unless it's "filtered" by them first. In ward three, I don't receive any written advance communications from my Councilmen informing me of what they are going to say in the Council meetings? I guess , as one of the people they represent, I should have them "clear" everything they are saying publicly with me before they say it? That is not good government policy. It is the way to grind government to a halt! On second thought....maybe that is the intent? I'm just saying!
George Lenard February 12, 2013 at 07:13 PM
I kind of doubt use of a City employee's time is considered "contribution or expenditure of public funds." Her salary is already budgeted and regularly expended on preparing documents for Council meetings. It is not a contribution of funds, but of labor, and unless it forced her to work overtime involved no marginal expenditure beyond her fixed salary cost. Honestly, some people...
Earl Higgins February 12, 2013 at 08:04 PM
Is the irony that some are complaining that the Mayor gave out too much information, and therefore "violated Missouri's Sunshine Law" lost on everyone? Seriously? Was any damage done? If so, what? My high school's student government (go Bulldogs!) had less bickering and infighting than this group... think about that for awhile...
Kim February 12, 2013 at 09:48 PM
And perhaps a resolution honoring the UCHS student who scored a perfect 36 on his ACT, one of only 29 in the state of Missouri to do so in 2012.
Steve February 12, 2013 at 10:02 PM
It is not enough for the Mayor to release confidential information because she cannot, by City Charter, do so. The City is run by a 7 member council, of which the mayor is an equal member. By Charter, the Mayor is head of government for ceremonial purposes only. The release of confidential information REQUIRES a vote by the Council. Listen to Mayor Welsch tell you about it in this Youtube video-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxQVqLiPiLU
Steve February 12, 2013 at 10:26 PM
The Mayor's unilateral action violates City Charter as she does not have authority to release confidential information to suit her purposes. What's next personnel files? We already had one former council member who removed the names and social security numbers of employees from City Hall. The harm is that this sends the message that any Council Member can release confidential information. The Mayor released the information in her "private" newsletter so as to argue that other Council members acted improperly. She has used her private bully pulpit on more than one occasion to criticize fellow council members. Thus, she is using confidential information to bolster her own political agenda. I would hope that young people are being taught that you do the right thing even it seems there is no harm in doing the wrong thing. In government that is leadership.
Mark February 13, 2013 at 01:21 AM
So sick of these contentious, political city council meetings. Hopefully we will soon get the opportunity to vote these wannabes (I'm looking at you, Ms. Carr) out of office - and yes, I am in your ward.
Billy Frank Thornton February 13, 2013 at 01:23 AM
Silly City.
Kathy Leahy February 13, 2013 at 02:20 AM
Weary, weary, weary am I…I humbly ask all on the city council: Before you say something against another council member, ask yourself if it will produce something good for University City residents. Ask yourself if it will result in something that will be important to anyone other than yourself and your "teammates". Ask yourself if you have anything MORE IMPORTANT to do than show how clever you are, how right you are, or how wrong someone else is! Can we please get something done by this governing council?
cam February 13, 2013 at 02:27 PM
Good idea, Kim!
Cindy February 13, 2013 at 04:18 PM
Kim wrote a blog on this topic. Check it out: http://sayyestoucityschools.blogspot.com/

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