Public questions Monroe City board about Sunshine Law

The atmosphere was tense during Thursday’s meeting of the Monroe City Board of Aldermen as questions arose about the accuracy of information presented to citizens and whether the board is complying with the Missouri Sunshine Law.

Resident Jerry Potterfield challenged the board on a recent decision to outsource the city’s water plan, and said the board was violating the Sunshine Law.

Potterfield reminded Mayor John Long he had stated earlier that the reason the board had not contacted the Clarence Cannon Wholesale Water Commission about furnishing water to the city before hiring PeopleService Inc. was that the city would lose its ability to control the water rates.

Potterfield told the mayor that the above statement was not true and went on to state he had contacted Mark McNally, general manager of CCWWC, who told him that CCWWC was a wholesale distributor and provided water for many towns and cities but did not dictate what their customers charged.

A clearly frustrated Long asked Potterfield what point he was trying to make.

Potterfield retorted that dealing with false information leads to bad judgment and the fact that the public was given false information by the mayor bothered him.

Long denied that the information was false.

Potterfield, who has previously addressed the board about his concern over the lack of itemized billing by city attorney John Wilcox, stated he had been told that the city administrator had been instructed to rubber stamp the city attorney’s bill by earlier administrations and asked if this was accurate. There were no clear comments from the board.

After again expressing his apprehension and ire over the numerous decisions made by the board in illegal executive sessions, Potterfield asked the board if they knew what the penalty is for violating the Sunshine Law. There was no clear answer from the board or mayor.

When attorney John Russell asked during the open forum if all of the board members had received a copy of his proposal asking to be considered for the position of city attorney, it was brought out again that only three of the board members, Connie Painter, Jason Osbourne and Melissa Hays, had a copy of the letter.

The mayor said he had seen the letter but had taken no action since he thought Painter was going to make a copy of the proposal for the board members. Jeremy Moss said he thought the matter had been discussed in other board meetings and he understood it was OK, but that he had not seen the proposal.

Painter pointed out that the mayor has been asked several times to give a copy of Russell’s proposal to the other board members but he has not. Saying she anticipated this would be the situation, an agitated Painter proceeded to give copies of Russell’s proposal to each of the alderman.

Painter has previously said she does not have anything against the present city attorney but she does not feel it is fair not to at least consider Russell’s proposal. She said that Russell is a resident of the city, a qualified attorney and his fee would save the city a significant amount of money.

Russell has proposed to do the job of city attorney for a flat fee of $24,000 a year. Acting city attorney John Wilcox charges the city on a per hour rate. The current rate is $120 an hour. For the first three months of this year, Wilcox billed the city approximately $15,000 for legal services.

Stating she felt the board had ignored the public in some actions, Hays felt seeking applications for the position of city attorney would be a uniform way to handle the matter. She made a motion to make it known that the position was open.

“That way it could not be said the board was biased,” Hays remarked.

The board agreed to have City Administrator Jackie Pangborn send out letters stating the position was open and asking applicants about their qualifications. The applications are to be returned by the Aug. 9 board meeting.

Long told the board he would like to appoint the firm of Wilcox and Williams to represent the city in legal matters. However, he did not want to go against the board and agreed with the decision to seek applicants for the position.

Presently the only qualifications for city attorney are that they be a regularly licensed and practicing lawyer in the courts of the state.

Moss pointed out that it is up to the mayor to appoint a city attorney and the board’s responsibility to act on the appointment. State law governing Fourth Class cities state that all appointments by a mayor must be approved by a majority of the Board of Aldermen in an open meeting.

City ordinance requires the mayor to appoint a city attorney annually on the first regular meeting after the April election or as soon thereafter as possible. Wilcox was appointed as city attorney by former mayor Neal Minor and served as such during Minor’s tenure as mayor. The election of several new board members in April has brought about a number of changes.