The Gadfly received a nice surprise in his mailbox yesterday from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.
Before I get into that surprise, I need to provide a bit of background because everyone might not be up to speed on some of the history surrounding “Gravelgate”.
Back in December of 2020, there were allegations that Camden County Commissioner Don Williams had received a campaign donation in return for a promise to gravel a roadway. This roadway passed through a piece of property that had recently been purchased by a couple, the Bianchis, who planned to move to this area and settle down. They were unaware that the Commission had directed Road and Bridge to gravel this roadway and were completely surprised (and in Illinois) when the trucks started pulling up to lay down that gravel.
Here’s a link to a pretty good summary of how things went down:
The Missouri Highway Patrol (MHP) was asked to investigate these allegations. They completed their interviews, and the investigation was forwarded to a Special Prosecutor from Laclede County. This prosecutor reviewed the investigation and declined to file charges.
In early November of 2021, I had the opportunity to review the MHP interview reports from this investigation. While the focus of the interviews was obviously on the campaign donation and the road graveling, what jumped out to me is that many of the witnesses, including Bev Thomas, Don Williams, and Greg Hasty (the Commissioners at the time), described a meeting that occurred on December 8, 2020. This meeting was between Larry Coleman (the gentleman who wanted the road graveled), the Commissioners, and a Road and Bridge employee.
The meeting took place in the Commission Office. Depending on who was interviewed, there were 2 or 3 of the Commissioners present at various times during the meeting. Two Commissioners present at a meeting constitutes a quorum of the Commission. They were clearly discussing county business. This meant that the meeting should have been a publicly posted, open meeting of the Commission. Commissioner Williams has also stated he recused himself from the meeting, but he was present for at least part of it.
Excerpt from Commissioner Williams MHP interview:
Excerpt from Commissioner Hasty MHP interview:
Who wasn’t at the meeting? The people who owned the property that was graveled: the Bianchi family . Perhaps if this meeting had been publicly posted and open, the Bianchis could have told their side of the story, and a lot of trouble and unnecessary expense could have been avoided.
On November 12, 2021, I filed a Sunshine Law Complaint with the Missouri Attorney General regarding this private meeting that was held by the Camden County Commission on December 8, 2020 in violation of the Sunshine Law.
The response I received yesterday from the AG’s Office stated : “After reviewing, it is our opinion that the Camden County Commission engaged in an unnoticed and improper meeting violation.”
The AG’s office further stated they have “…instructed the Commissioners to attend a Sunshine Law training within the next six months.” This is pretty funny when you consider that Presiding Commissioner Greg Hasty has been the presiding commissioner of Camden County for almost eight years now.
So what was the Commission’s argument in defense of this meeting? They claimed it was an “informal” meeting. They also claimed that the meeting was “ministerial” because the Commission was not deciding to construct or establish a new road. Instead, they were merely “gathering facts” about the need to maintain a road.
The Assistant Attorney General disagreed. She pointed out there was a quorum present and by making the decision to contact the Road and Bridge Department to instruct them to maintain the county road, the Commission engaged in a meeting with a vote without any formal procedures of the Missouri Sunshine Law.
As an interesting aside, the Assistant Attorney General also mentioned the issue of alleged improper use of funds for private political use (Gravelgate). She wrote that she has forwarded that aspect of the complaint to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office Unit for Public Corruption. I wasn’t expecting that because my main focus was on the private meeting and the transparency issue, but it should be interesting to see how it plays out.
I didn’t keep it a secret that I had filed this complaint and a lot of people were skeptical that anything was going to come of it. I will confess that I was pretty persistent about following up with the Attorney General’s Office about the status of the complaint. I am after all, a Gadfly.
It’s just my nature.
I was pretty confident that this was what detectives would call a “slam dunk” violation. While the end result of a requirement to attend Sunshine Law training isn’t a heavy penalty, it is at least something.
And if Greg Hasty doesn’t win the primary in August, he won’t even have to attend the training. So there’s some silver lining for Greg.