JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit Thursday against the city of Wood Heights over alleged Sunshine Law violations.
The city held a closed-session vote regarding disbanding its police department in April 2018 without informing the public, thus violating Missouri’s Sunshine Law, according to the lawsuit. It contends the city failed to let its residents’ voices be heard on the issue of public safety.
The lawsuit demands the city void its vote to disband the police force and seeks monetary penalties if the court finds the violation of the law to be purposeful.
“When public entities or individuals are violating the Sunshine Law and obscuring their decisions to the public, we will take action.”
“Transparency is paramount to healthy democracy, and the Sunshine Law serves as a tool to the citizens of Missouri to ensure that transparency,” Schmitt said in a statement. “When public entities or individuals are violating the Sunshine Law and obscuring their decisions to the public, we will take action.”
This is the first Sunshine Law suit under the Schmitt administration, his office confirmed.
The lawsuit was filed in Ray County Circuit Court. A representative for the city of Wood Heights said the city had not yet received any notification from the attorney general’s office regarding the lawsuit and could not comment on the allegations.
At the time, the city of Wood Heights said it disbanded the police department due to financial issues. Mayor Robert Pettegrew said the department had “run at a deficit every year since it was brought back in 2009,” according to The Excelsior Springs Standard.
Jared Sartin, then the police chief, pushed back and said, “Any city that uses their police department as a sole income revenue generating source has a police department for all the wrong reasons.”
According to Schmitt’s office, the attorney general has been focused on the Sunshine Law, particularly making sure Missourians understand its purpose. Earlier this year, he announced changes to the Missouri Sunshine Law book in an effort for more government transparency.
“An engaged citizenry is essential to a healthy democracy, and we hope that these resources are useful to Missouri citizens and public officials alike,” Schmitt said then.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a reporter with The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in March 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City. Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S. and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa. She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.