BELLE — The city of Belle’s Sunshine Law attorney Nathan Nickolaus on Feb. 4 filed a partial motion for judgment on the pleadings related to Count 4 of the complaint filed by the Missouri …
BELLE — The city of Belle’s Sunshine Law attorney Nathan Nickolaus on Feb. 4 filed a partial motion for judgment on the pleadings related to Count 4 of the complaint filed by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office related to a Feb. 21, 2023, meeting.
According to Nickolaus, in Count 4 of the petition, the attorney general’s office (AGO)alleges the city voted to adjourn a Feb. 21, 2023, open session meeting and move into closed session to discuss purchasing a K9 police dog from the Maries County Sheriff’s Office. During closed session, the board discussed and voted to counter-offer a sale price on the K9 ($3,000 instead of $6,000) in what he determines to be contract negotiations.
Nickolaus supports the claim that the board adjourned into closed session to discuss a contract with the city’s minutes from the meeting, which said, “the board took a vote to adjourn the meeting to closed session to discuss a counteroffer amount.”
According to partial motion for judgment, the AGO’s allegations that the topic of the Feb. 21, 2023, meeting should have remained in open session because it “was not authorized to be closed under Section 610.021 is demonstratively false.”
“Even if the factual allegations in Count 4 are true, and for the purposes of this motion the city concedes that they are, the count fails to state a cause of auction because the legal premise that is based on, namely that the Sunshine Law does not close contract negotiations, is demonstratively false.”
The Sunshine Law does allow a public governmental body to enter closed session for contract negotiations according to 610.021.12, “sealed bids and related documents, until the bids are opened; sealed proposals and related documents or any documents related to a negotiated contract until a contract is executed, or all proposals are rejected.”
In this instance, Nickolaus alleges that the verbal negotiations with the Maries County Sheriff’s Office falls under contract negotiations and could be discussed in closed session and requests that the court “issue a partial judgment ton the pleadings where appropriate in Count 4 in favor of the defendant and for the defendant’s costs and attorney’s fees incurred.”
While Nickolaus made the argument that the city could enter into closed session, based on lines 115-118, to discuss the contract as allowed in 610.021.12, he did not make any statements regarding the AGO’s petition that lists the city’s remaining violations, including:
• Line 107: Under the Open Meetings Law, all public meetings of public governmental bodies shall be open to the public unless specifically exempted by law;
• Line 109: All public governmental bodies must provide public notice to identify under which exception the meeting may be closed before a closed public meeting occurs:
• Line 110: The specific reason announced for a public governmental body to close a meting must relate directly to a specific provision in 610.021, which authorized, but does not require, a public governmental body to conduct a closed public meeting;
• Line 113: When a public governmental body conducts a closed public meeting, it must demonstrate that it was in closed session for the specific announced reason authorized by the law and that its members did not discuss any business outside the scope of the state reason for entering the closed public meeting;
• Line 121: That discussion and vote (of the K9 counteroffer) are knowing violation (610.022.3);
• Line 122: The board purposefully violated Section 610.022.3 as it knew its Open Meetings Law obligations.
The AGO concluded Count 4 in its petition by requesting, “this court enter judgment in favor of plaintiff declaring defendant violated the Open Meetings Law by failing to comply with notice requirements of 610.022.3; order appropriate injunctive relief under 610.030 to ensure the city complies with the Open Meetings Law’s requirements; award $1,000 in monetary penalties for each knowing violation the court finds; award $5,000 in monetary penalties for each purposeful violation the court finds under 610.027.4; and any such further relief as the court deems just and appropriate.”
According to the Feb. 21, 2023, meeting notice, posted on Feb. 20 at 2:15 p.m. (a holiday when the offices were closed), for 3 p.m. the following day, they were planning to discuss the “police department.”