Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Why can't anyone in Joplin leadership ever admit when they're wrong?

For the past couple of days, there has been a know-it-all commenter who insists that the readers of this blog (and the writer of this blog, for that matter) do not know enough to know when a Sunshine Law violation has been committed.

City Attorney Peter Edwards must know everything about the Sunshine Law since he is, after all, the city attorney and the city attorney should know about the Sunshine Law. Especially when the city the attorney represents was just criticized in the state audit for frequently violating that law.

When I wrote two days ago that Edwards and the City Council violated the Sunshine Law, there was no doubt in my mind. I had come across this particular violation before although it was more than a quarter of a century ago.

This type of violation was also addressed in the January 20, 2014, Sunshine In Missouri blog post written by Jean Maneke, the Kansas City attorney who advises Missouri newspapers on Sunshine Law issues:

I had an interesting discussion today with a reporter about a county commission's actions. Between two budget meetings, the commissioners apparently had decided to take a chunk of funds for an expenditure out of the county emergency fund.

Questioned by the clerk as to when that decision was made, the commissioners indicated there had been no formal meeting at which that decision was made. Finally someone suggested that the county attorney had called each of them individually and discussed the issue.

Now, let's just stop with those facts. In this case, it was clear a consensus had already been reached when the commissioners came together and acted without any in-meeting discussion to amend the budget in that fashion. Decisions like that are not simply a product of osmosis. Even the commissioners acknowledged that there had been discussion, albeit with the county's attorney who apparently had engaged in a series of what some have at times referred to as "round-robin" calls. Others (I'm thinking of Jay Nixon while he was serving as the State's Attorney General) have called this a "wagon-wheel" decision-making action. Regardless of what terms are used, it involves a third party calling the individual members of the public body, conveying to each what the others are thinking and continuing these calls until a consensus is reached.

This is not an action that gets you a free pass under the sunshine law. If you go back to a discussion by the Western District Court of Appeals some time ago, while considering a series of meetings of fewer than a quorum of members of a public body in an effort to keep from getting a quorum together, the Court said "In such closed meetings with less than a quorum, deliberations could be conducted and votes taken with a public meeting then being held to ratify publicly that which had already been done in private. This would violate the spirit of our Sunshine Law...."

Regardless of whether it's a meeting of small groups or one-on-one calls with someone who passes the information on among all the other members and facilitates arriving at a consensus without the formality of a meeting, it's still illegal and courts won't give a public body's members a pass just because they manage to discuss a hot issue in a way that the public cannot participate. Playing games like this is still illegal.

The situation that Maneke writes about is the same thing that occurred in Joplin Sunday. A vote was taken without any notice. The law simply does not permit that. There was no emergency that could have given Edwards an excuse, albeit a weak one. A meeting could have been scheduled for Monday before the scheduled hearing or the hearing could have been postponed and a closed meeting scheduled in its place to discuss the agreement and the joint statement.

Maneke was consulted by the Joplin Globe and in an article posted today is quoted as saying there is no legal provision for doing what Edwards and the City Council  did.

While both Maneke and Edwards said that an official, formal vote to accept the deal at next Monday's meeting will take care of the problem, Edwards' behavior is a reminder of a more serious problem that has affected those in leadership in this city.

Edwards still won't acknowledge that he made a mistake.

That's a familiar refrain.

-Mike Woolston admits to not being transparent enough, but to nothing else. (Of course, Woolston, unlike Edwards, might face criminal charges if he admitted anything.)

-As late as June 2014, Mayor Michael Seibert was praising Wallace Bajjali and saying that those who criticized the firm's lack of accomplishment did not know anything about getting projects underway. As far as I can tell, he has never admitted he was wrong in that contention.

-For that matter, has anyone in city government acknowledged that there were mistakes made in the hiring of Wallace Bajjali, or in failing to cut ties with the firm after the Loraine Report made that recommendation?

That same lack of taking responsibility appears to be at epidemic proportions in this city, with leaders of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, what used to be (and may still be) the Joplin Progress Committee, and the Joplin Globe all avoiding taking responsibility for much of anything.

When I make a mistake, I admit it and I would be willing to bet most of those who read this follow the same policy. It's never fun to acknowledge an error, but the unwillingness to do so among the elected leaders and the so-called elite of this community have contributed to the lack of faith we have in those leaders

It is time that those who want to lead us stop blaming the tornado for any errors and simply admit when they are wrong.

Trying to bury the mistakes and say, "We must keep moving forward," is no longer an option.


Anonymous said...

Randy: you have proven you've got decent reading comprehension but you are lacking in a total grasp of the material. Also, I think even you must understand the obvious bias of referencing an attorney that specifically consults with newspapers regarding sunshine law. I think most people can likely read into what side Ms. Maneke typically falls on.

Anonymous said...

4:32: Edwards broke the law. It sounds more like you are trying to pick a fight with Turner. This isn't Dwight Douglas making a comeback, is it?

Anonymous said...

I would trust a lawyer who specializes in the Sunshine Law more than a troll.

Anonymous said...

I have consulted with Jean Maneke numerous times in the past several years and have been on panels with her. I can say without hesitation that she knows the Sunshine Law better than anyone I have ever known. It doesn't matter who she represents, she will interpret the law fairly and without bias. When I first read of what the council did, my first thought was, "they violated the Sunshine Law." It is a no-brainer folks. Think about it, do you want our elected officials to conduct official business and take votes over the phone without it being recorded? As Randy said, this could have been prevented very easily. There is still something rotten in Joplin. This all happened too fast!!!

Anonymous said...

They should own their mistakes, plain and simple. It's impossible to respect their childish behavior, and as a result I honestly don't believe anything they have to say anymore. Their credibility is shot.

Anonymous said...

Read the Sunshine law, folks. Even in emergencies, bodies must give as much notice as possible. Emergency??? Come on, that's preposterous. Those rolling meetings which include less than a quorum in a manner to defeat the Sunshine law are meetings, and calling it a dancing zebra doesn't change the fact.
Mr. Edwards is just wrong, as was the council for holding an illegal vote.
Pretty simple. For those wishing to look for themselves:

Anonymous said...

Unless someone challenges it..which they won't, then no one cares. Everyone always jumps up and down and cries foul with sunshine law violations with the city and school district and you know what happens? Nothing.

Anonymous said...

Like Commander Codpiece said: "Mission Accomplished!"

(You may wish to release your parachute harness crotch straps now.)

Anonymous said...

I must say it is quite good theater reading the comments of people who speak with such authority yet have none. There is a reason that the barrier to becoming an attorney is so great. It weeds out people such as those commenting on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone want the real lowdown on the sunshine law? It is quite simple. Nobody really gives a shit about it. Plain. Cut and dry. That's it, folks. There is little remedy to a violation of sunshine law. You can all bemoan violators as much as you like but the reality is that municipalities violate sunshine law quite frequently and it (wait: big shocker!!) isn't always bad. The city council did the right thing in this case by moving past what could have been a three ring circus. Joplin has been through enough. The time to move forward is now.

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts, the first from Anonymous 8:07, he's right, no one person (outside the media) gives two hands of crap about the Sunshine Law. Fine, they violated it, slap them on the hand move on. Is it right? No, of course not. But in the grand scheme of things, what's really going to happen? Don't do it again, correct your mistake, six months of Sunshine Law probation for you. Two weeks of Sunshine Law after school study? Saturday school for city council members to study the Sunshine Law? To the general public, it's a joke.

Second thought, Turner said:

"When I make a mistake, I admit it and I would be willing to bet most of those who read this follow the same policy. It's never fun to acknowledge an error, but the unwillingness to do so among the elected leaders and the so-called elite of this community have contributed to the lack of faith we have in those leaders."

Good line. Few anybody admit mistakes. We have become a society that sheds the blame, responsibility and accountability on everyone but ourselves.

I've never known you to A) admit to making a mistake or B) actually make a mistake. You are so busy pointing to the mistakes made by everyone else, how do we know when you're the one making a mistake? Who's holding you accountable? You have an agenda, it's obvious. No one is asking you to admit it, the reader with any common sense should be able to observe this. The question is, where does your agenda end and the facts to your reporting begin? To average reader, not all can separate the two.

Anonymous said...

@ 8:07 I don't think it's possible to move forward until those that created that three ring circus have gone. Aren't they prone to just repeat it again?

Anonymous said...

You obviously only read the Turner Report when something salacious is going down. I've been keeping up with this blog for awhile and anytime Randy has felt that he left something out or missed the mark on something he openly blogs about it. He doesn't hide the truth or cover up anything. If you feel like he's pushing an agenda then why are you here? If you're interested in sugarcoated lies than I suggest you read the Globe instead.

Anonymous said...

8:07, which straw municipalities that violate Sunshine Law quite frequently? You sound like the child who wants something "because everyone else has it."

Turner makes plenty of unadmissable mistakes said...

Turner makes plenty of mistakes. It is just that when Turner makes "mistakes" he gets fired and that is the end of it, except for the incessant whining for years afterwards.

Turner is a mere blogger. Turner has an agenda, and that agenda is to whine for years about how everyone one else has an agenda and can't be trusted and is getting away with something illegal, etc. etc.

8:34pm is correct. With Turner we get free entertainment.

Anonymous said...

8:00 PM .....Please! I can guarantee that just because someone was able to make it through law school does not separate the cream from the milk. I can name off pretty damn fast a hand full of lawyers in Joplin alone that are crooks, tramps and thieves. Give me five minutes more and I can list two hand full of incompetent attorneys that have shingles out. By the way there is no barrier to being a lawyer except a cheap bottle of scotch.

Anonymous said...

Yes you're right, we do get free entertainment, especially in the comments section! I love how people complain about the Turner Report and how they can't stand it, all the while ignoring the hypocrisy in their own statements! Kinda hard to "push an agenda" when you're willingly coming here to read it and partake in the conversations that follow. Just sayin.

Anonymous said...

If this troll (I am less charitable than our host) pontificating about our "lacking in a total grasp of the material" actually knew anything, he'd be citing the law or case law (court decisions) that support his point.

Anonymous said...

1) Turner didn't do anything wrong that led to his termination with R8.
2) Turner does admit if he makes a mistake--whether he finds it or someone else does.
3) The only "agenda" I've seen on here is Turner trying to show what others are hiding.
4) It seems that all of our local governing boards think that they don't have to follow the Sunshine Law--school board (of old), city council and county commissioners.