by Kathy Crawford
Closed sessions—and events surrounding them—-have come to the forefront of discussion at the City of Tracy.
At last week's Tracy Board of Aldermen meeting, the agenda stated that the board would go into closed session “for the purposes of discussing legal action and engaging in privileged attorney/client communications, and to discuss personnel, and for the purpose of approving minutes for the prior closed session.”
Alderman Larry Hill made the motion to go into closed session. However, his motion was not seconded and no vote was taken despite the Sunshine Law’s requirement to do so, according to the attorney general’s Web site.
As of Monday – three business days after the closed session – The Landmark was unable to get a copy of any minutes or votes that may have been taken at the closed session.
“Minutes of the closed meeting must be taken,” according to the attorney general’s Web site. “The minutes must include, but are not limited to, the time, date, place, members present and absent and a record of votes taken during the closed session.”
The mayor said that Laurie Molder, who is the city clerk and the records custodian, normally takes the minutes at a closed meeting. However, she was asked to leave, so Julie Thomas, alderman, took the minutes. According to the Sunshine Law, the records custodian has three business days to provide a detailed reason to anyone who has been denied records.
Earlier in last week’s meeting, Hill took exception to pages eight and nine of the Oct. 17 unapproved minutes because Molder recorded votes and other actions taken during a closed session.
“Votes are public information,” said Ferguson. Rehard interjected with her legal opinion.
“Not all votes in closed (sessions) are open,” she said. “I mean, it depends on what it is. On personnel issues, the vote has to be made public within 72 hours. But there are other votes taken in closed session that never have to be made public.”
Rehard's attempted point was moot since the votes that were recorded in the minutes were indeed personnel issues. Specifically, officer Beth Taulbee was promoted to the rank of sergeant with Hill being the only dissenting vote. Taulbee was also made a full-time employee with Hill again voting no.
Hill also had an item on the agenda with regard to duties of the board, which are outlined in the Missouri statutes under Chapter 79.
“At the last meeting it struck me when Rita (Rhoads) said that she was the chairman of the board,” said Hill. He added that he didn’t know anything about the board having a chairperson. “So, I consulted with the mayor, and she provided me with the statutes.”
He read from the statutes, which state that the board is to select an acting president. Also, the acting president will serve for a one-year term at which point another board member can be chosen.
“Now, have we voted on that?” asked Hill, who has been on the board since the spring of 2007.
The response was in the form of a debate with some board members saying they thought there was a vote and others saying there was not. Hill said that he is concerned that by not following the statute to the letter, the board could be creating unforeseen problems. Because the chairperson takes over in the mayor’s absence, Hill said the board should come into compliance and vote in public to make Rhoads the acting president.
Hill also pointed out that other than taking over as acting mayor in Ferguson’s absence, the chairperson has no other authority. A vote will be taken up at the next meeting because it was not on the agenda last week.
Hill raised another issue that upset him enough that he said he called the city attorney. His question was whether committees formed by the board of aldermen are governed by the Sunshine Law. He said that Rehard told him they were.
“And you asked me to leave the meeting,” said Hill, speaking to the mayor and referring to a zoning committee meeting that took place. The mayor said that she explained to Hill then that the meeting in question was not really a meeting.
“Are you telling me you had a non-meeting, meeting?” asked Hill. The mayor said yes.
“That is absolutely ridiculous.”
The mayor continued to explain that the meeting was an introductory meeting to give everyone on the committee a chance to get to know each other and receive materials they will be using while serving.
Regardless, Hill said he didn’t think any committees, which are appointed by the board, should close a meeting to a member of the board. The mayor said that his comments were noted.