The Warrenton Board of Aldermen meeting agenda will continue to list a notice stating that the board may meet in executive session even if it doesn’t intend to.
That was the consensus from the board, mainly from those aldermen who have been on the board for a few years, following an inquiry made by Mayor Jerry Dyer.
The notice states the board may hold a closed meeting to discuss items related only to personnel, litigation or real estate matters. It must be placed on the agenda to meet the state’s open meetings and records law, more commonly known as the Sunshine Law. An agenda must be posted 24 hours in advance of a meeting, though a closed meeting can be scheduled if an emergency situation is deemed necessary.
For each board of aldermen meeting, the agenda lists the possibility that the board may meet in closed session.
In his second meeting as mayor on May 1, Dyer recommended the notice be removed over his own perception that the city should appear to be more transparent.
“When we put the executive session on our agenda, to me it gives the impression that we have something to discuss,” he stated. “When we don’t have anything to discuss, I recommend taking it off the agenda and don’t leave the public with the perception we are doing something or discussing something behind closed doors.”
Dyer said he had no problem if there was a need for a closed meeting to be held. He just preferred that the notice be removed if a closed meeting was not needed at the time the agenda is finalized and posted. If needed, Dyer said a closed meeting could always be scheduled between the board’s bimonthly meetings or at the next meeting.
Normally, the city posts its agenda on the Friday prior to a Tuesday meeting. It would have up to 24 hours in advance of a meeting to amend the agenda if needed to meet the Sunshine Law requirements.
Prior to the May 1 meeting, Dyer spoke with city attorney Chris Graville about his concerns. Graville informed the board the Missouri attorney general’s office recommends that the closed meeting notice not be on an agenda unless there is an intent to discuss personnel, litigation or real estate matters. Regardless, he pointed out that it had been the city’s practice to always plan for an executive session.
“I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer,” Graville said. “I think it’s a matter of public perception or practice.”
Other board members did not support Dyer’s position.
“I’m having a hard time understanding that it wasn’t working,” Ward 2 Alderman Beth Kendall commented.
Normally, the Warrenton board has an executive session following nearly every open session, a point that was reiterated by Kendall. She estimated the board did not meet in a closed meeting a handful of times in her first five years on the board.
Ward 1 Alderman Phil Tallo and Ward 2 Alderman Fred Flake also wanted to see the executive session notice remain on the agenda.
Another longtime alderman, Ward 3’s John Clark, said he had no problem either way on how the board proceeded, but remarked the board was following the closed meeting law.
“We’ve never done anything outside the legal boundaries or anything,” he said.