JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit Monday against Garden City for allegedly violating the state’s Sunshine Law when it disbanded its police department in a closed-door meeting last year.
This is the second Sunshine Law-related lawsuit of Schmitt’s tenure as attorney general. He previously sued the city of Wood Heights for disbanding its police department behind closed doors in April 2018.
Garden City — located about 45 miles south of Wood Heights — voted to dissolve its police force in November 2018.
“Citizens have a right to know about decisions that their local governments and municipalities make that directly affect them,” Schmitt said in a statement. “The Missouri Sunshine Law ensures transparency in government, and as attorney general, it’s my duty to protect and enforce the Sunshine Law.”
“Cities have to make tough financial decisions all the time, but voting on major decisions like this shouldn’t be held behind closed doors.”
“Cities have to make tough financial decisions all the time, but voting on major decisions like this shouldn’t be held behind closed doors. It’s my hope that this lawsuit will provide more transparency for the residents of Garden City and assure that future votes are open to the public,” he said.
News of the department’s dissolution came as a shock to the community, including Chief Thomas Alber, WDAF-TV reported in November. After the other seven officers were laid off, Alber said a public safety issue had been created. The department handled nearly 3,000 calls per year, according to WDAF.
Filed in Cass County Monday, the attorney general’s lawsuit alleges the city “improperly shielded from public view a vote to reduce or disband the City’s police force, an important matter of public concern that is not authorized to be closed under the Sunshine Law.”
“Garden City citizens were deprived of the opportunity to voice their views about the matter until after the City’s Board of Aldermen voted to reduce or disband the police department behind closed doors,” the petition stated. “By then, it was too late.”
A Garden City representative declined to comment Monday afternoon.
The lawsuit against Wood Heights is ongoing.
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.