KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Questions about transparency and if it’s following state law have plagued the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners. Another closed session meeting with no explanation is the latest piece of evidence in this heated debate.
The Missouri Sunshine Law allows the public to know what the government is doing. It’s a check and balance so citizens know about decisions that affect their lives and how their tax money is spent.
But some people believe that the Kansas City police board is violating that law.
“The law is the law,” attorney Bernie Rhodes said. “When the people who enforce the law break the law, all heck is gonna break out.”
The Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department has been under fire for not being responsive to the needs of the community, and Rhodes said that lack of confidence starts with the body that governs KCPD: the Board of Police Commissioners.
“The whole point about transparency is to obtain the confidence of the people. When you hide behind the law, and particularly when you illegally hide behind the law, people lose confidence in you. That’s why they want to throw the bums out,” Rhodes said.
On May 24, the Board of Police Commissioners went into closed session without providing a reason for doing so, against the objection of FOX4 and other news outlets in the room.
That law states a governmental body must give notice of a closed meeting, with time, date and the reason for holding it, which must be one of the 24 specific reasons spelled out in the law.
Again, on Aug. 3, the BOPC called a special meeting and didn’t specify its reason on its website. FOX4 had to ask why and the reasons the KCPD Media Office gave were: labor negotiations, litigation and personnel matters. They’re all legitimate reasons under the law.
“The board has said, ‘Oh, well, nobody asked us,'” Rhodes said. “That would be like me shoplifting from Walmart and being arrested by the Kansas City, Missouri, police and saying, ‘Oh, but no one stopped me and asked me to pay for it.'”
Rhodes pointed out that not only did they violate the Sunshine Law when they failed to give proper notice of the meeting, they violated it when they claimed they couldn’t provide a copy of the engagement letter with their lawyer.
The Kansas City Star reported it requested a copy of the contract between the BOPC and its attorney in its lawsuit against the city over KCPD funding. That request was rejected. The BOPC told the Star details of any agreement are protected by attorney-client privilege.
“The engagement letter is nothing more exotic than the letter in which the Board of Police Commissioner’s hires a lawyer to represent them in its lawsuit against the city. There’s no legal advice in that. It’s a business decision of who to hire and how much to pay for them. To claim that that is a closed legal record is preposterous,” Rhodes said.
The Missouri Sunshine Law only allows specific parts of legal advice to be closed. The contract, or engagement letter, is an agreement of services, not a legal matter.
Neither Mayor Quinton Lucas nor David Kenner, who is the BOPC attorney, responded to FOX4’s request for comment. Gov. Mike Parson, who appoints members to the Board of Police Commissioners sent the following statement:
“The governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoints commissioners to the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners. However, the Board makes its own decisions, independently of the Governor’s Office, regarding the conduct of its business. Concerns about the ways in which the Board conducts its business are best directed to the Board itself.”