JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt today announced that his office has obtained a consent judgment against the City of Bel-Ridge, located in St. Louis County, over alleged Sunshine Law violations.
The lawsuit was filed in June of 2018, and alleged that meetings of the Bel-Ridge Board of Aldermen held from June 2017 to February 2018, sixteen in total, were closed and specific provisions of the Sunshine Law authorizing that closure were not cited in the meeting’s minutes. In some instances, a reason for the closure of the meeting was never given in the minutes.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that at an October 3rd, 2017 meeting, the Board of Aldermen voted to close a portion of the meeting and moved to a separate conference room to discuss topics like an ordinance pertaining to commercial vehicles and trailers, increasing the pay and term limits for elected officials, election spending, and more. After the Board voted to open the session, the door was “cracked open,” the venue was not switched back from the separate conference room, and members of the public were not notified.
In the consent judgment, signed by the Honorable Kristine Kerr on November 18, the court ordered the City of Bel-Ridge to do the following:
All current members of the Board of Aldermen, the Mayor, and the Clerk and Deputy Clerk of Bel-Ridge attend one training session on the Sunshine Law presented by the Attorney General’s Office
The Board of Aldermen can only close meetings when specifically authorized by the Sunshine Law; before closing a meeting, the Sunshine Law provision must be publicly announced; only topics encompassed by the Sunshine Law provision announced can be discussed in closed meetings; and the Sunshine Law provision cited for closed meetings must be noted in the meeting minutes
The Board must post notice of all public meetings on the City’s website 24 hours prior to a meeting and copies of all open meeting minutes
Each open Board of Aldermen meeting is to be audio recorded and that recording maintained as a public record
Allow the Attorney General’s Office to review whether meetings were properly closed
Allow the Court to impose fees for violations of the consent judgment.
“Ensuring that government is as open and accountable to its citizens as possible is an important duty of my job as custodian and enforcer of the Sunshine Law,” said Attorney General Schmitt. “In instances where the Sunshine Law is not being enforced or followed properly, we will take action wherever possible to ensure that citizens are able to properly follow what their government is doing.”
Attorney General Schmitt has also filed lawsuits against the City of Wood Heights and Garden City for alleged violations of the Sunshine Law.
Citizens who wish to file a Sunshine Law complaint can do so here: https://ago.mo.gov/missouri-law/sunshine-law/sunshine-law-complaint-form