The Franklin County Commission is facing another complaint from a candidate for county office.
Ron Keeven, a candidate for First District commissioner, filed a complaint with the Missouri attorney general’s office, claiming that the commission is violating the Missouri Sunshine Law when it holds administrative working sessions.
The attorney general’s office asked in a June 7 letter that the county provide a written response by June 21, including all notices, agendas and minutes from January to May of this year.
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer Tuesday said he responded by phone on Friday and plans to do so in writing soon.
Griesheimer was critical of Keeven and said he takes the Sunshine Law seriously.
County Counselor Mark Vincent said he heard similar complaints from Keeven and others in 2010.
Vincent said in October 2010, and reiterated Tuesday, that commissioners are allowed to hold administrative meetings to handle the day-to-day business of the county without having an open, public meeting and without posting an agenda for the meeting.
“County government is a weird duck,” Vincent said Tuesday. “There is an exclusion of the public meetings law (in Missouri) where it states the meetings don’t include informal gatherings.”
He noted that some county commissions throughout the state simply create an intentionally vague agenda which says they are in session at all times so that they can hold such informal administrative meetings.
“If what we do is wrong, we need guidance (from the attorney general),” Vincent said.
Commissioners have held open working sessions over the past several years, in addition to the regularly scheduled weekly public meetings and the administrative working sessions which aren’t open to the public.
The Missouri Sunshine law, under Chapter 610, Section 020, of the Missouri Statutes, states “all public governmental bodies shall give notice of the 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, and if the meeting will be conducted by telephone or other electronic means, the notice of the meeting shall identify the mode by which the meeting will be conducted and the designated location where the public may observe and attend the meeting.”
The letter from Brenda Siegler, Sunshine Law coordinator, quotes the section, emphasizing the word “each.”
Vincent said that interpretation would make it very hard for county commissions.
“The commission is required to be here every day, so how are they supposed to conduct business?” he asked.
Jean Maneke, Missouri Press Association attorney, disagreed with Vincent’s assessment of the law.
“The law only recognizes two kinds of meetings — open meetings and closed meetings,” Maneke said in 2010. “They can use whatever kind of phrasing they want, but if they’re not closed meetings, then they’re open.
“County commissions need to be very careful. You have a committee of three and if two get in a car to go somewhere and they discuss public business, that car ride is a public meeting,” she said.
“They don’t have to vote on anything. If they’re talking about public business, then it’s a public meeting,” Maneke said.
Griesheimer was quick to blame politics Tuesday.
“It is pretty sad that basically everything we do comes under scrutiny,” he said. “Keeven and his friends have made it difficult to conduct an open meeting.”
Keeven said he has not spoken at a public meeting in months, citing an unwritten “gag” from Griesheimer prohibiting candidates from making public comments.