The Cape Girardeau County Commission seems ready to start operating under a more formal and informative agenda following criticisms from one commissioner that the other two hold private meetings.
The action, proposed Thursday by Commissioner Jay Purcell, is a good step toward complying with the state Sunshine Law, said Jean Maneke, an attorney for the Missouri Press Association.
Agendas, Maneke said, should be "reasonably calculated to advise the public of the matters to be considered. If they have not put out an agenda reasonably calculated to advise the public of the matters to be considered, they are in violation of the law."
Purcell, during Thursday's meeting, noted that Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones had sought such changes more than two years ago but was stymied by Commissioner Larry Bock and former commissioner Joe Gambill.
Purcell and Jones are the two commissioners accused of holding private meetings. Bock made the allegations during Monday's regular commission meeting.
The commission, Purcell said, should "set a day to discuss how to strengthen the agenda."
The commission meets twice a week. During the meetings, which typically last two to three hours, they are often approached by other officeholders or county employees to deal with issues that were not part of the formal agenda.
And the agenda as posted often gives little insight into what specific discussion is to take place. For example, Thursday's agenda noted a 9:30 a.m. appointment with Pat Colon of the Juvenile Department.
Colon came to discuss the need to find a replacement car for one damaged in an accident. After hearing from her, commissioners approved purchasing a replacement automobile.
But the agenda didn't specify what issue Colon would discuss during her time.
On Monday, Bock cited a meeting between Purcell, Jones and Jeff Brune and Doug Richards of the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority. The meeting wasn't posted as a formal commission session, and Bock said he discovered it only because he happened to come by the commission offices.
And Bock questioned whether a group headed by Gambill had ever been formally authorized to look at the feasibility of the county taking over the federal courthouse on Broadway in Cape Girardeau.
Both the transit authority meeting and the informal appointment of Gambill to advise the commission fall short of the legal requirements of the Sunshine Law, Maneke said.
When a quorum of a public body is together -- two commissioners constitute a quorum -- and any public business is discussed, it should only occur in a legally posted meeting, she said.
And an advisory committee can't do its work unless it has been formally appointed, she said.
"The government has this procedure set out to give people a comfort level that it is taking responsibility," Maneke siad.
And any action the commission takes that is not on its posted agenda should include in the minutes a notation on why it could not be put off until the next meeting, she said.
"If it is indeed an emergency, there is a procedure in state law to deal with it," she said.
Jones, in an interview Thursday, said more information on the agenda, and more formal meetings, would also help commissioners. The biggest help, he said, would be in keeping track of past discussions and actions.
"We need to be more formal so it is in the minutes and we can find out what action we took," he said.
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