Thursday, January 18, 2018

Aldermanic Bill Would Require Online Notice for All City Meetings

Posted By on Thu, Jan 18, 2018 at 6:58 AM

click to enlarge These days, notices are physically posted at St. Louis City Hall. - FLICKR/DUSTIN PHILLIPS
  • FLICKR/DUSTIN PHILLIPS
  • These days, notices are physically posted at St. Louis City Hall.
For gadflies like Gerry Connolly, trying to figure out what quote-unquote public meetings are happening in St. Louis city government requires full-time dedication — or an army of helpers.

Connolly, a member of the activist group Team TIF who focuses on government transparency, says he relies on a small group of informants to keep him posted even when the meeting notices aren't. "These are people who either work at City Hall or I know are downtown, and I'll contact them to say, 'Can you look at the notice boards?' The spot for the St. Louis Development Corporation is literally a bulletin board tucked away in a corner."

That's because while state law requires that government meetings be open to the public (with limited exceptions), and requires that notice be given 24 hours before a meeting, it doesn't say where that notice must take place. You may go online for information, but in city government, all too frequently, it can only be found on bulletin boards.

But that might all be changing. On Tuesday, Alderwoman Cara Spencer filed a bill at the Board of Alderman that would require all city departments and agencies covered by the state's Sunshine law to post their meeting notices online. Koran Addo, a spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson, said Tuesday that the mayor has also been intent on changing practice and pattern on public notices — and one day later, she issued an executive order requiring that all city departments reporting to her must post their meeting notices online.

Spencer said she appreciates the mayor's order, but notes that it does not preempt the need for an ordinance. For one thing, many of the city agencies that seem to have a particularly hard time with public notice are outside Krewson's purview (this being St. Louis, a whole host of city agencies and quasi-governmental bodies do not report to the mayor). For another, she says, an aldermanic vote could keep a future mayor from undoing the policy — or failing to enforce it.

"It's a good government no-brainer that this should be law," Spencer says.

You won't get quarrel for City Hall watchers like Connolly, who'd like to retire his team of informants (or at least put them to better use). He says the Board of Aldermen itself doesn't always get its notices posted 24 hours before meetings — and that's just talking about the dead tree kind.

Posting meeting notices online, he says, doesn't seem like too much to ask.

"It's 2018, and we're acting like it's 1995," he says.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com

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