Attorney General demands answers from New Bloomfield city leaders

New Bloomfield's board of aldermen made no mention of receiving a letter from the Missouri Attorney General's Office at its regular council meeting June 21, 2018. (Andrew Wafford/KRCG 13).

The Missouri Attorney General's Office has demanded answers from New Bloomfield city leaders after the office received numerous allegations the city's board of aldermen has violated public records laws.

In a letter from Josh Hawley's office obtained by KRCG 13 Friday, assistant attorney general Jason Lewis described six issues for which the agency wanted answers.

The first set of complaints contend between January and March 2018, the city council took steps to dissolve its police department without giving citizens adequate notice, according to the letter. Lewis noted the numerous public statements the city made claiming the police force disbanded solely because of budgetary reasons.

"However, we have reason to believe that the city has cited [a section] of the Sunshine Law to close meetings and votes concerning the topic," Lewis wrote.

The assistant attorney general said Section 610.021(3) allows a public governmental body to close a meeting for the hiring, firing, disciplining or promoting of particular employees by a public governmental body when personal information about the employee is talked about or recorded. "As used in that statute, 'personal information' does not include budgetary concerns," Lewis wrote.

The second set of complaints claim in May, the city's board of aldermen held at least one meeting without public notice where leaders discussed paying Holts Summit to provide police protection to New Bloomfield. As KRCG 13 reported, residents of New Bloomfield did not know about the proposed agreement between the two cities until a Holts Summit city council meeting in which the proposal went public.

Lewis noted the third complaint alleges city leaders held a meeting on April 26 in which it appointed a mayor pro tempore without providing any public notice. The fourth complaint alleged in May, the city canceled a planned meeting to appoint a new mayor. Although the meeting had been canceled, the complaint claims a resident, who is not a member of city leadership, stood outside of city hall and told members of the public they were not allowed inside because the council was "discussing matters pertaining to the city," Lewis wrote.

The fifth complaint states council members do not cite specific reasons for going into closed session. The office received complaints alleging the board frequently holds work sessions, special sessions, executive sessions, or committee meetings without providing any notice to the public.

The sixth and final complaint claims city leaders charged a citizen $250 for 13 hours of work to search for documents to fulfill a public records request in March. The complainant said the time spent to fulfill her request is excessive, because the city holds its documents in four filing cabinets, and the city uses unpaid volunteers to assemble to documents requested. The complainant also said the city failed to provide requested documents including contracts for certain services, documents about the city's water system and correspondence concerning a rate increase for water services.

The attorney general's office has requested multiple documents from city leaders including a list of all dates, notices, agendas and minutes for meetings held between October 2017 and July 2018. Lewis requested a copy of the city's written sunshine law policy, a document the city is required to have by law. The office also requested a copy of the city's media policy.

Lewis wrote the office requests the city provide documents and responses to the allegations by July 6, 2018.

City leaders made no mention of the letter dated June 19 at its city council meeting Thursday night.

KRCG 13 requested comments from New Bloomfield Mayor Terry Shaw and the city's attorney, Mark Warren. Those requests went without a response as of Friday afternoon.

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