Wednesday, September 10, 2014

rule of law: apartheid governance is necessarily secretive and anti-democratic

LATimes |  When the City Council announced the new policies Monday, some observers wondered whether the council had broken Missouri's sunshine law, which generally requires that public meetings and deliberations be accessible to the public.

“When they come up with a proposal that they’re going to implement, one assumes they have been meeting,” said Jean Maneke, an attorney specializing in 1st Amendment law who represents the Missouri Press Assn. “If they haven’t been meeting, it kind of begs the question: How did they come up with these policies and decide they were going to implement them?”

Maneke added, “Something went on here that just smells.”

Although the council's Tuesday night schedule indicated that members would be going through a first reading of the proposed policies -- two readings are generally required under Ferguson statute -- language in a statement the council issued Monday seemed to treat the passage of the new policies as a foregone conclusion.

The statement said that “these changes have been accomplished or are in the process of implementation,” and that the council “will be abolishing” municipal court fees, despite no votes apparently having been taken.

“The overall goal of these changes is to improve trust within the community and increase transparency, particularly within Ferguson’s courts and police department,” City Councilman Mark Byrne said in the statement, which was released through an outside public relations firm. “We want to demonstrate to residents that we take their concerns extremely seriously. That’s why we’re initiating new changes within our local police force and in our courts.”

City Council members could not be reached for comment shortly before the Tuesday's meeting, which, according to a video live feed, had quickly turned into a raucous affair as residents came up to the microphone for public comment.

One resident directly challenged the council on how it came up with its  proposals. “How can you propose a bill for a first reading? Have you been meeting in secret?” the man asked.

One male council member responded, “This is the first reading.... This is our first meeting, first reading,” and didn't elaborate. (The Los Angeles Times was not able to determine which council member was speaking.)

At least two advocates who support those changes said in interviews that they were troubled by how the council introduced them.

“It seems as though they had a closed-door meeting and came up with this stuff,” said Patricia Bynes, a committeewoman for the Democratic Party in Ferguson.