Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer may soon give testimony on a bill that would make major changes to the state’s open meetings law.
Griesheimer said the county commission will be in Jefferson City on Monday for the Missouri Association of Counties Legislative Conference.
While there, Griesheimer said he may give testimony on a Sunshine Law bill if it comes up for a hearing.
The bill has already passed in the Senate and was heard in the House General Laws Committee March 27.
The Missouri Press Association (MPA), which supports the open meetings legislation, is waiting to see how the bill progresses, Executive Director Doug Crews said.
“This bill would try to get the attention of public officials to abide by the Sunshine Law,” Crews said.
There are also two other open meetings bills making their way through the Legislature.
Griesheimer said the state Senate bill to strengthen the Sunshine Law is “unfair” and that he has had issues with the MPA over the matter.
Under current law, government officials can be fined for “knowingly” violating the Sunshine Law.
The bill would remove the word “knowingly.” This way government officials would be subject to fines for violating the law regardless of whether the violation was done knowingly or not.
MPA attorney Jean Maneke added that there is still no definition of what the word knowingly means in the open meetings law.
Taking the word “knowingly” out of the Sunshine Law is “ridiculous,” Griesheimer said.
He said he realizes it is the responsibility of elected officials to know the law, but he said some parts of it are vague. And he said he does not want to give regular critics of the county commission more grounds “to harass us and file stupid complaints.”
He added that he strives to practice a transparent form of governance and that he has nothing to hide.
“I pride myself on the fact that we try on a daily basis, to do the right thing,” Griesheimer said.
Another part of the proposed bill that he is worried about is a move to increase the amount of public notice required for meetings from 24 to 48 hours.
This could be a difficult scheduling task, especially during the holidays, he said.
But Crews said the goal is to give people more opportunity to give input to elected officials.
Lack of Clarity
Griesheimer said he wants to propose an amendment to the open meetings law to more clearly define what types of meetings need to be publicly posted and which ones do not.
The amendment would only apply to first class counties, which have full-time county commissioners.
Since Franklin County commissioners work full-time, they regularly interact with each other, Griesheimer said.
The commissioners should not have to make a public meeting notice every time there is a quorum — or majority of the board — present, he said.
“It would be a nightmare,” Griesheimer said.
For instance, the commissioners regularly meet with staff members and citizens, he said.
Current law is vague in terms of which types of meetings have to be posted and which ones do not, he added. Many times, the county commission does not know what should be posted as a public meeting and what should not be because of the law’s vagueness, Griesheimer said.
The intent of the open meetings law is not to enforce basic day-to-day administrative contact that the commissioners have with constituents and employees, Griesheimer said.
The purpose of the law is to make sure the commissioners are not making decisions “outside of normal bounds,” he said, adding that they are not trying to skirt the law.
He said the commissioners are not trying to “gut the bill,” but he said, “There’s got to be some give and take.”
Crews said the MPA is willing to discuss making the law clearer in terms of what meetings have to be publicly noticed and which do not.
“I think they raise a good point,” Crews said. “I’m willing to go down that path with them on that.”