Cape County disabilities board meeting not posted in time, president says

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Nobody is saying exactly what a last-minute county disabilities board meeting scheduled for this morning is about, but some suggest the meeting shouldn't be happening at all -- at least not yet.

And that includes Dory Johnson, president of the Cape County Board for Developmental Disabilities, which has a special closed-session meeting set to begin at 7 a.m. today.

Johnson said Wednesday she isn't certain the meeting, which was called by board vice chairman Larry Tidd and treasurer Jeff Baer, is in compliance with Missouri's Sunshine Law because notice may not have been posted publicly in time. Both Tidd and Baer said, however, they believe the meeting is legal because notices were posted at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in two locations.

Johnson disagrees. Technically, an 8:30 p.m. posting Tuesday would be more than 24 hours notice as required by the open-meetings law. But the notice was posted in the board's case-management office in Jackson, which is closed overnight. That means, Johnson said, that the public didn't have access to the notice until 8 a.m. Wednesday, which is only 23 hours before the meeting.

A second notice was also posted on the door at VIP Industries in Fruitland, where those with developmental disabilities work as part of the sheltered workshop.

Still, Johnson said the whole situation is out of the ordinary for how the board usually operates. Normally, Johnson posts notices a week to 10 days before the meeting. The board's regular meeting place is the county administration building, and the meetings are usually in the evening. With the regularly scheduled meeting set for next week, Johnson also wondered why there is a sense of urgency to meet now.

"I want to be open and aboveboard and let people know we're working for them, not hiding things from them," Johnson said. "We should be doing this in the proper way before the public so no one can say we're hiding this."

Jean Maneke, a lawyer for the Missouri Press Association, sided with Johnson. Maneke, who has worked in the field for more than two decades, said notice has to be posted 24 hours before a meeting and at the principal office of the governmental body.

"Posting it anywhere other than their case-management office was good, but it doesn't count," Maneke said. "You have to give 24 hours' notice. and that's the bare minimum. If you post at a facility that is closed, the hours that it's closed don't count. The public can't see the notice if the facility is closed."

It began earlier this week when Johnson received an email from Baer, who wanted to hold a special meeting at his Jackson CPA office. Baer told Johnson that he had information on the organization's executive director, Bob Dale, but he would not share it until the nine-member board was all together. Johnson brought it to the attention of both Baer and Tidd that it needed to be posted.

"They didn't seem interested in doing that until they were being pressured with the Sunshine Law," Johnson said. "I don't believe they had any intention of putting up a notice until they realized I was going to push it."

Johnson is also suspicious of the topic of the meeting, especially if it's accusations from an anonymous source directed at Dale, the executive director who was hired six months ago. Johnson said she has "no complaints" about the job Dale has done to date.

Dale said Wednesday he was aware of the meeting and that he was the topic. Beyond that, he said he didn't know much else.

"I am entrusted with the responsible care of taxpayers' money to be used for the benefit of people with cognitive impairment and developmental delays," Dale said. "I only hope any action the board would take would be clear and open to the public and in the best interests of those we serve."

When asked if his job was in jeopardy, Dale said he hopes not.

"For over 20 years, I have fought for the right of people with disabilities, and this isn't going to stop that," he said.

Neither Baer nor Tidd would say in interviews with the Southeast Missourian what the information about Dale includes or if it involves allegations. Public boards can go into closed-session meetings when the topic involves personnel matters, under the Sunshine Law. Baer said they researched the law and believe posting it 24 hours in advance satisfies the statute. He said that they wanted a special meeting because going into closed session makes the regular meetings too long. He said when Johnson made him aware that the meetings should be posted, they did so.

"Obviously, we want to do whatever is legal," Baer said, noting that the meeting may be pushed back until later in the week. "This was not an attempt to do anything in secret."

Johnson said she intended to attend the meeting but said she would object at the outset that the meeting is not legal, she said.


Pertinent address:

902 E. Jackson Boulevard, Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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