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Secret ballot flies in face of state's Sunshine Law


Mike Anthony
Executive Editor

manthony
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May 08, 2013 - In recent years, Sunset Hills officials have made many strides toward making the workings of city government open and transparent.

In particular, Mayor Bill Nolan has led the charge in making Sunset Hills government transparent, as he was the driving force behind the city's purchase of software to digitally record Board of Aldermen meetings in August 2010.

But one area Sunset Hills lacks in transparency occurs each April when the Board of Aldermen elects one of its own to serve as "acting president" — something required under state statutes for fourth-class cities.

It has been the city's longstanding practice to select the acting board president with a secret ballot during an open meeting — something we believe flies in the face of the provisions of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, also known as the Sunshine Law.

With a secret ballot, the Board of Aldermen voted April 23 to name Ward 2 Alderman Scott Haggerty acting board president. The vote was not unanimous, though, as two other aldermen received one vote each.

Ward 3 Alderman Stephen Webb, who was elected acting board president last year with a secret ballot, received one vote, as did Ward 1 Alderman Richard Gau.

Given that the Sunshine Law states, "It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law," it's disturbing that residents don't know how aldermen voted on the selection of the acting president. Gau did state he did not vote for himself.

We'd be hard-pressed to name any other governmental entity in south county that uses a secret ballot to select board officers. In fact, the Green Park Board of Aldermen recently voted 5-1 to select Ward 3 Alderman Fred Baras as president. Ward 1 Alderman Tony Pousosa was opposed.

In April 2006, the Crestwood Board of Aldermen deadlocked 4-4 on the selection of a board president with a secret ballot. But in May 2006, aldermen cast their votes for board president out in the open, and then-Mayor Roy Robinson broke the 4-4 stalemate in favor of naming then-Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel as president.

Having a secret ballot at a public meeting flies in the face of the accountability we expect from our elected officials. We believe eliminating the secret ballot for the selection of acting board president would further enhance Sunset Hills' reputation for transparency and accountability.


Tags: Opinions Column


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