The Jackson County Legislature’s desperate attempts to avoid ethics accountability have dragged more good people into their distasteful mess. On Monday of this week, the Jackson County Ethics Selection Committee, composed of three good and admirable people, announced their intention to violate the law and risk fines and attorneys’ fees.
In their announcement soliciting candidates for the Jackson County Ethics Commission, the Selection Committee includes a surprising promise: “Every effort will be made to maintain the confidentiality of applications, but the applications of those selected as finalists may become public. Finalists will be notified prior to their information being made public.” The promise is not only surprising because it seems weird for the ethics process to be conducted under cover of darkness, but also because it is a clear violation of Missouri law!
The analysis supporting this conclusion comes from no less a source than Jean Maneke, Missouri’s leading expert on the Sunshine Law. She maintains the blog Sunshine in Missouri, an indispensable resource for those of us who care about transparency in government. Yesterday, she posted the following analysis:
The ethics commission is an entity created by the Jackson County Charter, and therefore it is clearly a “public governmental body” as defined by the Sunshine law. That means everything it does must be done in public. The selection committee is established by the county charter. That makes that selection committee a public governmental body, also.
The Sunshine law mandates that all meetings of public governmental bodies must be held in public and all records of public governmental bodies must be open to the public, unless there is a provision in Section 610.021 which allows closure. Case law is absolutely clear, as is the law itself, that the exclusions in Section 610.021 must be read narrowly. Therefore, unless there is a clear provision in Section 610.021 to close a record or meeting, you as a member of the public must be allowed access to that information or meeting.
The commission’s website has posted a sentence at present that states “Every effort will be made to maintain the confidentiality of applications, but the applications of those selected as finalists may become public. Finalists will be notified prior to their information being made public.”
That is absolutely wrong! There is nothing in the exceptions contained in Section 610.021 that would allow any of this information to be closed. None of these persons are applicants for employment with the county. Each of these appointments are political appointments and for them to claim in any fashion that this would be confidential is legally wrong and an affront to the Jackson County citizens, myself included.
Read the rest of her analysis, including her opinion of the members of the Jackson County legislature, in this scathing post.
Sadly, all this is completely predictable, and completely the fault of the Jackson County Legislature. All the shenanigans surrounding the resignations and the rewrites of the Ethics Code to exempt the legislators from its enforcement are the fault of a couple legislators who resent public accountability. The thirst for secrecy that drove the legislature to avoid accountability to the “old” Jackson County Ethics Commission is the same backroom preference that is guiding the Jackson County Ethics Selection Committee now.
Secrecy is not healthy for government. Ethical government does not crave secrecy. The Jackson County legislature craves secrecy. Why?
(MUCH more is on its way in this series, including the announcement of an Ethics opponent for Henry Rizzo, a call for the Selection Commission to include a disclaimer on its solicitation of candidates warning them of their duty to ignore the ethics ordinance’s provisions that violate the Charter, a profile of each district and solicitation of a pro-ethics candidate for each, and a potential Ethics Initiative Campaign. The Ethics Crisis Series will continue until the Legislature accepts local enforcement of the Ethics Code, or each of the legislators who voted for it is driven from office.)