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Joplin city councilman: Vote should have probably instead been - KOAM TV 7

Joplin city councilman: Vote should have probably instead been in public forum

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Joplin, MO -

Missouri's state auditor says the most common Sunshine Law violations in the state include closed-session discussions that should be open to the public.

That statement comes during our investigation of what a few Joplin city council members are calling an "off the record" vote regarding tax payer's money.

The state auditor won't directly comment on our story, but she did say how she feels about certain types of votes.

The over-the-phone vote in question comes into question after then Councilman Mike Woolston resigned from the council last September, amidst accusations he profited from land seals that not only caught the attention of residents, but also the FBI and the state auditor.

Woolston hired a lawyer to try and defend his actions.  As the accusations of conflict of interest puled up, so did the lawyer fees:  $71,500, according to Woolston.

Woolston made the decision to resign from the council, but not before he asked the city to pay his attorney fees.  And that's when City Attorney Peter Edwards picked up the phone and asked city council members how they felt about using tax payer dollars to cover Woolston's bill.

But was the phone call a poll of council members, or a vote?

Missouri's state auditor says documents have to support actions.

"There can be votes in closed meetings, but the reason for closing the meeting and the votes need to be adequately documented," says Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway.

In an e-mail, Councilman Ryan Stanley says, "In our haste, we could have probably done things better, but haste normally creates situations where compromises are made."

If a vote was taken, Missouri Sunshine Law states meetings must be documented, as well as votes.  We asked for those minutes, and were told, "We have no documents responsive to your request" by City Attorney Peter Edwards.

In the end, council members declined to pay Woolston's fees.

"The Sunshine Law exists to hold government accountable.  When either as an auditor, as a journalist, or as a citizen we are not engaged in our government and we allow decisions to be made in the dark, it does leave you questioning how those decisions are made, and what else might be happening that you're not fully aware of," says Galloway.

Peter Edwards would not explain why no documents exist for the conversations he had with council members.  

Mike Woolston says first his attorney asked the city to pay for $50,000 of his defense bill.  But then he heard the city may be more agreeable to paying $10,000.

Councilman Bill Scearce says council members Mayor Mike Seibert, Mayor Pro Tem Morris Glaze, Miranda Lewis, and Ryan Stanley voted in favor of paying Woolston's bill.  Seibert, Glaze, and Lewis had no comment on why they voted the way they did.  

Click the associated documents to read Stanley's full response to us.

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