By Dennis Minich
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced Monday afternoon his office is filing suit against Garden City for violations of the Missouri Sunshine Law. The alleged violations occurred in November of last year when the board of aldermen voted behind closed doors to disband most of the city’s police department.
In a release, Schmitt said, “Citizens have a right to know about the decisions that their local governments and municipalities make that directly affect them. The Missouri Sunshine Law ensures transparency in government.
“Cities have to make tough financial decisions all the time, but voting on major decisions like this shouldn’t be held behind closed doors. It’s my hope that this lawsuit will provide more transparency for the residents of Garden City and assure that future votes are open to the public.”
The Garden City Board of Aldermen voted on Nov. 13 in executive session to lay off the city administrator and the police department, except for Chief Thomas Alber. The board met two days later in emergency session and voted to suspend Alber.
Alber went on social media immediately following the vote, implying the city was without police service – however, the city did not confirm the layoffs until Nov. 15, 48 hours after the vote. The city’s attorney, Chuck Weedman, of the Harrisonville firm of Crouch, Spangler and Douglas, provided the information.
The board said at the time that the move was necessary because the police budget was $150,000 annually, which Weedman characterized as “a lot for a city of 1,600 people.”
The police chief was not laid off, in part, because Missouri law gives limited causes for chief law enforcement officers to be removed from office.
Chris Nuelle, press secretary for the attorney general’s office, confirmed Monday afternoon that the investigation by his office has occurred as a result of complaints filed against the city. He also noted the office was aware of the situation because of the publicity it received at the time.
The filing was scheduled to be made in Cass County Circuit Clerk’s office on Tuesday morning. It will be available for viewing on the attorney general’s website.