Tuesday, September 15, 2015

City attorney: We didn't violate Sunshine Law, but if we did, we didn't mean to

A just-completed KZRG interview with Joplin Mayor Michael Seibert and City Attorney Peter Edwards has raised more questions about the deal that brought an end to Mike Woolston's time on the City Council.

Though Edwards made calls to individual council members to find out how they would vote on the agreement and joint statement, something that is not permitted under the Sunshine Law, he insisted everything was on the up-and-up.

"I don't think there was a Sunshine Law violation," he said, though he quickly hedged his bets by adding, "It certainly wouldn't have been intentional."

The agreement was reached, including the joint statement in which the council absolved Woolston of any and all wrongdoing despite what from all appearances was a last minute act of desperation by Woolston's lawyer.

Edwards said the lawyer had contacted him Sunday, apparently wanting to do anything he could to prevent Monday night's scheduled hearing from taking place. The offer was for Woolston to resign immediately and the council would agree to the statement that Woolston's attorney had drawn up.

Edwards said he took the proposal to his clients, the Joplin City Council, which approved the proposal by a 5-3 vote with Seibert, Morris Glaze, Miranda Lewis, Gary Shaw, and Ryan Stanley approving it and Melodee Colbert Kean, Ben Rosenberg, and Bill Scearce voting against it.

The city attorney said the three who opposed the deal had concerns about the deal. The other five council members, Edwards said, "did not want to get hung up on the language in the joint statement." In other words, Kean, Rosenberg, and Scearce did not want to give Woolston a clean bill of health before a hearing was held to determine if he deserved one.

Seibert said it is time for the city to move on, "(Woolston) is no longer a council member. All of these issues are moot."


Anonymous said...

No matter how many times they are told they violated the sunshine law they keep doing it. They all feel they are above the law. This must stop. Either they are that arrogant or they are the gang that csnt shoot straight. Either way Joplin needs to clean house.

If you own city attorney does not know if you violated the sunshine law then my God man you are all idiots. Did he get his degree from a cracker jack box?

The blind arrogant leadership of joplin is destroying any credibility the city had left.

Anonymous said...

They took a vote without posting a meeting, seems pretty cut and dry to me.

Why is it so many people working for the City seem incompetent? Joplin cleaned house in the Public Works department a couple years ago due to impropriety, fired Rohr, got rid of Tupper, has a Finance Director who has $10 million unreimbursed from a tornado 4.5 years ago, and now a city attorney who thinks you can take a vote of council without having a meeting?

Anonymous said...

Um, it's because so many people in Joplin are incompetent and ignorant. Anyone with any education and skills moves elsewhere for opportunities---because there are no real opportunities in Joplin or in that metro area. It's a hick town full of idiots and low wages, and it's never going to be anything else. It sure is entertaining to watch this circus from afar, though.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know the mayor and city council were democrats.

Anonymous said...

Considering the concerns expressed in the Joplin audit about the Sunshine Law, I'd like to know why the citizens of Joplin are paying for a city attorney who appears to be incompetent. If he is ignorant of the Sunshine Law, what other crucial matters is he ignorant of.

I'm also tired of seeing the arrogant smirk on the face of Mike Seibert. Seibert's attitude of, I'm so much smarter than the rest of you and I'll tell you what to think. Well, Mr. Seibert, you're not smart at all. I hope we all remember this fiasco come election time. I certainly will.

Don't be surprised if they try and pass Jane Cage off as the interim city council member.

Anonymous said...

8:56 must be Mark Rohr or David Wallace. So come back and rule over us peasants if you're so smart. Fool. We'll have the tar and feathers waiting.

Anonymous said...

What is the point of the Sunshine Law anyway? Nobody abides by it. And it certainly isn't mandated or regulated in any way. First it was the County Commissioners and now the City. And these aren't secret allegations. The way both events played out were well publicized and still nobody cared that they probably broke this "law". What's the point? We should all just go around breaking the law. It's frustrating.

Steve Holmes said...

I might have an answer as to why the Council was so eager to avoid a public hearing over Woolston. Look at this quote from Rosenberg in calling for the hearing.

"A city council member shall not have a financial interest, direct or indirect, in any contract with the city, or be financially interested, directly or indirectly, in the sale to the city of any land, materials, supplies or services, except on behalf of the city as an officer or employee. Any violation of this provision renders the contract or sale void, and any council member violating this section thereby forfeits his office or employment."

Reread the last line.

"Any violation of this provision renders the contract or sale void."

*If* I am reading that right, and that’s a big “if”, finding Woolston guilty would have wiped out any sale he’d brokered. Null and void. Chaos for the original sellers, Four State Homes, the JRC and the banks that’d loaned to the JRC. Canceling all those sales would have created an unprecedented, lawsuit-sprouting train wreck likely to have kept those lots vacant for years to come and made the Council look worse than it is now.

If there was any possibility, even a remote one, that a guilty verdict could have triggered a massive real-estate reset, it would have created an urgency to avoid a hearing.

Woolston goes away. Train wreck prevented (maybe; I could see people with buyer’s or seller’s remorse seizing on this provision to try to void what’s been done).

kitty chiwawa said...

Does the City Council really have the final say in whether or not Woolston is held liable for any wrongdoings? Who gives them the authority to dole out punishment or not? Surely he can be held to answer to other entities, not just the City Council..?

Anonymous said...

I think it is wise to remember your position: if you are going to comment with a sense of authority on legal issues then you had better be an attorney. I am not an attorney but several of my closest friends are and that has taught me that the law is not always as cut and dry as reading some statute may make it seem. There is so much more to the law than you amateur legal scholars believe.

I'd like to make it clear, I'm not on Woolstons side. I'm just saying it is wise to remember unless you're an attorney, don't act like one.

Anonymous said...

The correlation between comedy and tragedy is rarely more apparent than the way the local government "runs" Joplin. The city audit cited 10 closed sessions held by the City Council from the time of the tornado through Oct. 31 2013 when no minutes were taken. It is farcical to believe that was "an oversight" on their part. To occupy publicly elected office and be that incompetent is a stretch of the imagination at best. It is much more plausible to believe our "leaders" have "an agenda". I have sat in on several council meetings in the last few months and have been appalled at how biased our council appears to be on certain topics. Calling your community a city and " governing " it via small town , buddy system politics doesn't cut it. Being absolved of ethics violations , while being required to resign is a joke. If nothing " illegal " was done , why be required to resign? While the city has absolved ex - Councilman Woolston of ethics violations , the FBI has not to my knowledge. It appears that council members Colbert - Kean , Scearce , and Rosenberg are the only ones that think the citizens of Joplin deserve to know what is going on in our local government . In Tuesday's Globe Mayor Seibert said of the agreement :" I think this was the best way to resolve this issue and let council focus get back on council business and the city". Statements like that are the reason why any credibility the city government had left after the release of the audit is becoming impossible to maintain. In seeking closure on this matter , all I see is a desperate attempt to " sweep things under the rug". Mike Woolston was the tip of the iceberg. Others need to depart. Policy needs to be in the best interest of the community as a whole , not orchestrated to benefit the chosen few.

Anonymous said...

Steve Holmes nailed it. Talk on the street from different members of the community who have friends or neighbors who are employed at city hall have heard this very reason.

I will say this, yes Woolston is at fault, so is the city council, city attorney (former city attorney that is since he failed to advise council how to properly proceed), the CART committee, former city manager and many others.

Let us not forget who else is left holding the bucket: Us, the residents of Joplin. Both registered voters and non-registered voters. Those of us who voted failed to use our votes wisely. It was us who elected our poor community leaders. Non-voters are at fault as well for failing to go to the polls and voting for better leadership.

Anonymous said...

It is highly amusing watching the wanna be lawyers come out and opine on topics they have no business even talking about let alone proffering an opinion. The city attorney is not unintelligent or incompetent. Masquerading as an expert on legal issues as it relates to a municipality may be easy on the internet but I assure you (like a previous poster) there is more to the law then you think.

Anonymous said...

"City attorney: We didn't violate Sunshine Law, but if we did, we didn't mean to"


Anonymous said...

So I guess when the state audit specifically said the council was breaking the Sunshint Law on a regular basis they didn't know what they were talking about either. Too bad we can't all be as smart as the attorneys that run everything for us stupid peasants. Guess we have no choice but to trust them....

Steve Holmes said...

4:46 My position? Am I not allowed to have an opinion if I am not in a profession? If we applied that to everyday life, sports talk radio would go out of business.

7:58 Where did I say I'm an expert on legal issues? Note my caveat that I might be wrong. I am not a lawyer (happy now?), but I do have a good grasp of the English language. What part of "Any violation of this provision renders the contract or sale void" can I help you with?

Let's remember Norman Rouse, a lawyer, who didn't know that the school board could seat a new member on a 3-2 vote. The County Judge even told him the vote was valid. But wait, Rouse is a lawyer, so he must be right. I'll return to my position now.

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to wonder if the position of some of those making the decisions is permanently bent over.

Enforce the Sunshine Law or Just Bitch said...

The City Attorney said that he didn't know what the law is. Those of you closet "lawyers know best" believers should understand that according to the Sunshine Laws, any aggrieved taxpayer has standing to sue. Would a city attorney with visions of becoming a judge like to fight it out telling the electorate that he stands for further corruption and secretive machinations to enable a city official who abused his office and used insider information to enrich himself and his cronies?

This is a political problem. The purpose of the Sunshine Law is to pretend that there is some sort of law which keeps those in power -- who make the "law" -- accountable to their own laws. A law which offers transparency and offers those who disagree with the policy and workings of what is supposed to be a representative democracy a chance for debate and disagreement and negation of what has been brought secretly to fruition another chance to negate the conspiracy. Obviously that is not what happened. The Joplin city council-critters did whatever they thought needed to be done to protect one of their own. Now we think that five of them are just as crooked as Woolston.

The key to solving this political problem is an electorate which holds grudges and will never vote for taxes or politicians who pull this crap. They should forthrightly tell them who [mis]serve that there will be boycotts and ridicule until they are driven out from the city limits.

The City of Joplin and its officers should be held in contempt. So do so. Or simply file a lawsuit and air out this dirty laundry some more.

Or bitch some more.

Anonymous said...

I shouldn't have to say that talking about sports as a lay man versus commenting on the law as a layman are galaxies apart.

Steve Holmes said...

6:32, I hope Santa brings you s sense of humor.

Honestly, there’s so much unnecessary mystique about the legal profession, designed to intimidate its inferiors into shutting up. My dealings with elite professions like law and medicine have been pleasant. The lawyers and doctors entertained my questions and speculation with courtesy. Apparently, that respect does not carry over to the Internet.

I will grant you this: the law is not always cut-and-dried. One statute can override another, no matter how clear-cut the second seems to be. But are you really telling me that the phrase, ""Any violation of this provision renders the contract or sale void" would not cause Council members to void their bowels right there in Council chambers? Are you really telling me that, as many times as the community has been in uncharted waters since May 22, 2011. the City Attorney knew absolutely, positively that the phrase was nothing to worry about?

Maybe I'm wrong, but I stand by my ignorant hillbilly speculation as a good guess until we learn what really happened.

Anonymous said...

That's the way I interpret that last line as well. That would've been a huge fiasco.

Anonymous said...

Just another faceless commenter, not a attorney, my .02 for free.

Contract law is complicated (not to mention the separate subset of real estate law- which is an area of practice in itself) and the metes and bounds are well tested by prior court decisions. I would not hang my hat on the concept that the referenced phrase would in fact render void an already executed real estate contract or purchase. Whether or not the phrase has been incorporated in the actual contract.

"A city council member shall not have a financial interest, direct or indirect, in any contract with the city, or be financially interested, directly or indirectly, in the sale to the city of any land, materials, supplies or services, except on behalf of the city as an officer or employee. Any violation of this provision renders the contract or sale void, and any council member violating this section thereby forfeits his office or employment."

Rule of thumb- relying on what the contract says is a fools errand unless you really have experience in that area. Unenforceable clauses are common. Another related and important concept to understand is severability.

Steve Holmes said...

Thank you for a respectful answer, 2:54. I appreciate that.