At least I think it was a meeting?
All three commissioners were present.
The night before, a little bird landed on my window sill and told me that there was going to be a Camden County Commission meeting on Wednesday. I was surprised because there was nothing posted about the meeting on the Camden County Commission website. I made a few phone calls to some friends and we all decided to come and see what this meeting might be about.
When I came into the room, there were some members of the Sewer Board already seated in the room. There were a few other Camden County employees also there.
The Commission secretary wasn’t there, so I was curious about who was going to take the minutes for the meeting.
Commissioner Hasty saw that we were filming the meeting and he told Commissioner Gohagan, “We’ve got all the commissioners here. They’re presenting to us.” Hasty then told Jennifer from the Sewer Board: “Hey Jennifer, you called this, you called this show. It’s your show.”
Jennifer seemed surprised and responded, “It’s my show? Okay.”
Commissioner Hasty then said, “All I’m doing is…we’re sitting here. You’re telling us.”
I then tried to confirm with the Commission that this was a Commission meeting.
Commissioner Hasty responded, “Well, there’s three commissioners here.”
Jennifer started to describe that the Sewer Board had submitted for some ARPA funds for their sewer district infrastructure (ARPA is the federal funding that Camden County will receive from the federal government that is currently available to be used for water, sewer, broadband, or COVID-related expenses).
Commissioner Williams then turned to Hasty and told him they should get Lisa, the Commission secretary, over to the meeting. Good idea.
Hasty replied that this was just another business meeting. Commissioner Williams told him that this was still a meeting of the Commission. Good for him. Somebody has been reading up on his Sunshine Law rules. I’ve never been prouder.
Hasty then acquiesced and said, “Yeah, we probably ought to have her over here.” He did not look happy.
Now I usually try not to get too involved because it’s hard to write about the meetings if I get banned and I don’t want the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to serve a search warrant on my Facebook account if only to keep their poor detective from having to suss through all of my photos of my kids, my dog, homemade pizza, and my messages about military history and what not.
But in this case, I mentioned that I didn’t think this meeting could even happen today since notice of the meeting hadn’t been posted 24 hours in advance.
Commissioner Williams said that the commissioners could sit and listen. Commissioner Williams then called Lisa and told her to come over to the meeting.
Commissioner Hasty asked Jennifer if this was their regularly scheduled Sewer Board meeting. Jennifer responded, “No, this is your meeting.” Hasty explained that they thought this was supposed to be a Sewer Board meeting.
The Sewer Board meeting was the Wednesday the week before. Jennifer said she requested that the Commission schedule a Commission meeting to present their request.
Commissioner Hasty said they had assumed this was a Sewer Board meeting and they expected to walk in with the Sewer Board meeting underway. Hasty stated they would need to reschedule.
Commissioner Gohagan mentioned that the Sewer Board was here and they had a quorum. Commissioner Hasty then told him that the meeting had not been announced and there had been no notice. I guess we can call this progress.
Commissioner Hasty tried to call back to the Commission office but he couldn’t get through on his phone.
Commissioner Gohagan said he has been to the Sewer Board meetings and is aware of the funding that is needed, especially for the Camelot Sewer District. It was his opinion that at the next Commission meeting they could vote to earmark future ARPA funds for the sewer districts. It would require $748,500 in ARPA funding to upgrade the sewer districts. The ARPA rules say they have until 2024 to complete the work.
Lisa showed up just then to get ready to take minutes if necessary.
Hasty suggested they meet the next day on Thursday. I reminded him that they still needed 24 hour notice so it should probably be an afternoon meeting. Commissioner Hasty did not look happy and told me he was aware of that. Sheesh. I could hear Matt giggling behind me.
According to the Sewer Board, the Camelot Sewer District needs the lion’s share of the funding. The Sewer Board described the various aspects of the Camelot Sewer District that would need to be replaced. Alan Parker was at the meeting and he is the Sewer District operator. He spoke about the current status of the various districts and issues they’ve addressed and repaired. Parker really seemed to know his business and actually made the sewer issues seem interesting. We learned about “black jelly” and other sewer insider information. Sounded like a great guy. Another example of a fantastic Camden County employee.
At this point, Commissioner Hasty left to go over to the Commission office to schedule the meeting. He came back in record time and said the Commission meeting would be scheduled for 1:00 p.m. the next day. He said that he talked to Dawn about it and she was confused. She thought that this meeting was supposed to be a special Sewer Board meeting.
So in the end, it was apparently a miscommunication. I do wonder if things would have been handled differently if we hadn’t been present and recording the meeting.
I attended the rescheduled meeting the next day on October 28, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. It was my birthday and Monica was a little exasperated that I had to go down to Camdenton for another meeting. I explained to her that I felt like I had to go because some people might see me as the reason this makeup meeting had to happen in the first place.
I was the only non-Camden County employee in the room. Commissioners Hasty and Gohagan were present. The Sheriff, Treasurer and Auditor were there along with Jennifer from the Sewer Board.
The commissioners voted unanimously to earmark $748,500 of ARPA funds for Sewer District improvements. The majority of the money is going to go to the Camelot Sewer District but some is for the Sunnyslope District. The Normac Sewer District is running just fine.
Camelot has the most need because of the problems that are left over from when Camden County took it over in 2009.
The Commission voted to adjourn and that was that.
I did feel a little bad for making everybody show up for another meeting. When I mentioned that I had come down on my birthday and my wife wasn’t too thrilled about it, some of the Camden County officials offered to sing Happy Birthday to me. Camden County is a wonderful place.
Regular readers will note that I’m a big proponent of transparency and open meetings. I realize that this might seem like a broken record at times, but it is critical that Camden County business is conducted where the citizens can observe it. It’s not just because the Sunshine Law requires it. It’s good for all of us and it helps build trust in our local government.
To give an example of what I’m talking about, I recently read through the police reports from the Missouri Highway Patrol’s investigation into Gravel Gate. If people don’t know about Gravel Gate, they can read more about it here:
A brief summary is that it was alleged that a gentleman gave $3,000 as a political donation to Commissioner Williams with the expectation that the Commission would approve the graveling of a road that ran through a property that used to belong to a relative of his. The property had been sold to a couple from out of the area. Camden County then graveled the road that ran through the middle of the couple’s property without their knowledge or permission.
The thing about the MHP investigation that jumped out at me is that several Camden County officials told the MHP investigators about a meeting that took place in private in the Commission Office where it was discussed if the road should be graveled. Who was present at the meeting?
In his MHP interview (Supplement #11), Presiding Commissioner Hasty said that the gentleman who wanted to have the road graveled was there along with Commissioner Williams, former Commissioner Bev Thomas, and the “road guys.”
In his MHP interview (Supplement #14), Commissioner Williams stated that the meeting included the gentleman who wanted the road graveled, Presiding Commissioner Hasty, former Commissioner Thomas, Bill Berry, and possibly Charles McElyea (the Legal Advisor to the Commission). Williams said that he made a phone call during the meeting to Gary Webster, a former Road and Bridge Administrator, to ascertain if the road in question had been maintained by Camden County in the past.
In her MHP interview (Supplement #16), former Commissioner Bev Thomas stated that she was twenty minutes late to the meeting which she believed occurred in December (2020). She said the people present when she came into the meeting were the gentleman who wanted the road graveled, Commissioner Williams, Presiding Commissioner Hasty, Road and Bridge Supervisor Bill Berry, and Greg Holsey from Road and Bridge. She explained that Commissioner Williams was present in the meeting except when he went to his office to call Gary Webster.
In his MHP interview (Supplement #8), Bill Berry stated the meeting took place on December 8, 2020. He said that the gentleman who wanted the road graveled, Presiding Commissioner Hasty, Commissioner Williams, Charles McElyea, and possibly former Commissioner Bev Thomas were present at the meeting.
Four separate present or former Camden County officials described a meeting which took place where at least two of the three Camden County Commissioners were present. This represents a quorum of the Commission. I think we can safely assume that none of these people were lying to the MHP investigator about the meeting.
Who wasn’t at the meeting?
The couple who had purchased the land that the road ran through.
If this had been a public meeting of the Commission, the Commission could have heard from both sides of the issue and this whole mess might have been avoided. The remarkable thing about this is that in reading the interviews, not once does the reader get the impression that anyone was worried about the fact that the meeting was conducted in private. It was business as usual.
County business discussed in public. It’s not just the law. It’s the fair way to do things because knowing is half the battle.