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Open meetings law does not apply to state agency at federal meeting

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Open meetings law does not apply to state agency at federal meeting01/29/96 MISSOURI--The Sunshine Law does not prevent a state…

Open meetings law does not apply to state agency at federal meeting

01/29/96

MISSOURI–The Sunshine Law does not prevent a state organization from appearing before a federal body in closed session, the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis (8th Cir.) held in early January. The court denied a newspaper’s request to have the court order a lower court to review its decision allowing the closed session.

However, the Court remanded the case to the District Court in Kansas City to ensure that the federal panel is strictly monitored when it orders a state agency to testify, and that its authority is carefully tailored to meet the requirements of its mission.

In June 1994, the Kansas City Star complained that closed meetings of the Desegregation Monitoring Committee (DMC) violated the Missouri Sunshine Act because they were not exempted under any of the Act’s exclusions.

The DMC is a federal governmental body created in 1986 by the federal District Court in Kansas City to monitor the court’s school desegregation plan. Occasionally the DMC required the Kansas City School Board to appear at its meetings.

After Board members failed to attend a closed meeting in mid- September of 1994, the DMC voted to take exception to the Board’s failure to appear and directed the Board to attend a meeting in mid- October. In late September the Board, seeking judicial clarification of whether or not the law prevented them from attending closed meetings, appealed the DMC’s decision to the District Court.

In early November, the trial court denied the Board’s appeal, finding that the DMC was not subject to the Act as it was not a “public governmental body” but rather an arm of the court, and that the proposed meetings were not public meetings of the board, which neither convenes nor takes official action at such meetings, but were DMC meetings at which the board’s attendance was required.

After a mid-November closed meeting, the Star petitioned the Court of Appeals to direct the lower court to withdraw its order. (In re: Kansas City Star Company; Counsel: John Austin Felton, Kansas City)