Park board holds emergency closed meeting

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Cape Girardeau County Board of Park Commissioners held an emergency closed meeting Sunday, giving members just a few hours' notice and without informing the Southeast Missourian, which has been pursuing details of a proposed sale of county park land.

Asked why the newspaper was not informed, board chairman Joe Sherinski said it was to keep the deliberations private. "I didn't want you there," he said. "I wanted us to talk. I was afraid if I told you we had a meeting you would want to be there."

Under the Missouri Sunshine Law, bodies such as the park board must post notice of their meetings at least 24 hours in advance. The requirements include "making available copies of the notice to any representative of the news media who requests notice of meetings of a particular public governmental body concurrent with the notice being made available to the members of the particular governmental body."

For meetings held on less than 24 hours' notice, "the nature of the good cause justifying that departure from the normal requirements shall be stated in the minutes," the law states.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle, who is responsible for enforcing the Sunshine Law, said he was unaware of the meeting or the reasons for holding it. But he added: "In theory, what the park board did is exactly what the Sunshine Law was designed to prevent."

Sherinski released the minutes of the meeting Friday during an interview. The minutes state: "This closed meeting was scheduled after the awareness of the May 3rd article in the Southeast Missourian about the issues of the sale of park property."

All but one of the park board members attended the meeting, including Sherinski, vice chairman R.J. McKinney, Virgil Chirnside, Melvin Gateley, Nadine Davis and Nancy Collier. David Niswonger was the only absent member.

During the Sunday meeting, board members approved a motion requiring any future meetings with commissioners to take place in a formal meeting with all three commissioners on hand.

335-6611, extension 126

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