Still Waiting on Documents

Unfortunately, in spite of the AG Opinion provided on July 20, 2017, the City of Nauvoo still has not provided access to some documents. They had 30 days to do so. Among the still missing documents are multiple Hotel Motel Meeting Minutes from April, 2012.  These are sessions relating to the review of candidates, and decision to hire Kim Orth as Tourism Director. In recent email conversations with the Mayor, the Mayor informed us that the meetings were executive sessions (closed meetings), and that we should ask the H/M board for them. What? It’s hard to understand why there is still a reference to requesting anything from the H/M Board, since the Attorney General has already ruled against this position taken by the City.

The State’s Open Meetings Act comes down pretty hard on closed meetings. In particular it says:

To implement this policy, the General Assembly declares: 
        (1) it is the intent of this Act to protect the citizen's right to know; and

(2) the provisions for exceptions to the open meeting requirements shall be strictly construed against closed meetings.

In particular, there are specific criteria for conducting a closed meeting. And in light of the position the City has taken that the Tourism Director is a contractor, not an employee, there is no valid reason that this meeting was closed. This will require additional action on our part to correct.  The statute says:

(c) Exceptions. A public body may hold closed meetings to consider the following subjects: 
        (1) The appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees of the public body or legal counsel for the public body, including hearing testimony on a complaint lodged against an employee of the public body or against legal counsel for the public body to determine its validity.

The insistence that the proceedings of these meetings not be made public is curious. And only access to how these meetings were actually conducted will shed any light on them. Since they were closed meetings, the Open Meetings Act required that they be recorded, so we will be requesting them as well.

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A New Direction for Hotel Motel in Nauvoo

The City’s response to the Attorney General’s opinion was to craft a new Hotel Motel Ordinance. This ordinance was drafted by the City Attorney, and draws heavily on the State Ordinance. This is great for Nauvoo.  The new ordinance serves as the marching orders for the new Hotel Motel Board, and by extension, the Tourism Director.

Of particular note is the clarification that all Hotel Motel Tax dollars are to be spent to build overnight stays within the municipal boundaries. And the further clarification that this means not soliciting new competition for existing businesses within the City.

“The City of Nauvoo must expend the hotel-motel use taxes it collects solely to promote tourism and conventions within the municipality or otherwise to attract nonresident overnight visitors to the municipality, but it cannot expend them to advertise for, or otherwise promote, new competition in the hotel business.” (Ordinance 2017-7, 2-2-1)

These simple statements require important changes to the City Website, and the removal of all properties outside the municipal boundaries of the City of Nauvoo. We reviewed the site (beautifulnauvoo.com) today and noticed that there are still five properties not located in the city limits, that are represented on the site.  This is likely due to the fact that the new board has not met, and will have its first meeting on August 24, 2017. The new direction provided to the Tourism Director should resolve this conflict.

In addition, the only events promoted by the Tourism Director (who is paid with Hotel Motel funds) and the tourism website (which is also paid with Hotel Motel funds) must have a goal to increase overnight stays.

These improvements will bring focus and clarity to the efforts of the Board, and the Tourism Director.  We applaud the efforts of the City Council to bring the City into compliance with state law.

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School Board Still Dealing with Attorney General Requests

As we reported in June of this year, the Nauvoo-Colusa School Board had not conducted a meeting on May 15, 2017 in accordance with the Open Meetings Act. A number of violations were observed, and reported to the Attorney General’s Office. Considering the failure of the School Board to reschedule the meeting, even after they had been informed that the public had not been properly notified of what would be discussed at the meeting, it’s no surprise that recent communications received from the School Board (see below) confirm that members of the School Board had not completed the required certification training.

With two exceptions, Michelle Snyder (who had previously completed the training), and Trischa Kyle (who is new to the Board, and still within the legal time-frame for completing the training), every other member of the Board did not complete it until late June-July, 2017, a month after the Attorney General’s Office agreed that there was justification for an investigation. It is interesting that the response provided by the Board’s attorney states that some members had participated in other classes and “that they mistakenly thought these trainings covered their OMA certification.” This is in spite of the requirement that they provide a certificate of that training, to verify it had been completed (which these other classes had not satisfied).

This may explain why other issues have been noted in School Board meetings:

  • Individuals not on the School Board are allowed to participate in the meeting as a de-facto member; answering questions, participating in discussions, participating in closed sessions without specific invitation or explanation of the need for their presence.
  • Conversations between this same individual and the Board President are not audible to the members of the public, as required by the Open Meetings Act.  The School Superintendent, Kent Young, is not a member of the School Board, and should be afforded the same opportunities to speak as any other member of the public, from the audience.
  • If an individual wishes to have an item placed on the agenda, it does not legally require the approval, or even any input from the School Superintendent (we have several reports of this practice).  As we reported in our June 2, 2017 article, when the School Board President, Michael Siegfried, was informed of the violation prior to the meeting, he notified us that he would have to speak to the School Superintendent about it, we reminded him that as the Board President, it was his decision to make, he replied, “I know, but that’s how it works,” everything is run past the School Superintendent. And, at the meeting when we reminded the Board that the meeting was in violation, it was the Superintendent that defended the action.

We expect the Board’s performance, and responsiveness to the public, would greatly benefit by full compliance with the Open Meetings Act, and the newly gained information presented in the training they received in June and July.  The Attorney General’s investigation continues in this matter.

 

Training Dates Provided By Nauvoo-Colusa School Board

Board Member Start Date OMA Training Date
Michael Siegfried 4/1/11 6/27/17
Sandy Stevenson 4/1/13 7/12/17
Tonya Little 4/1/13 7/12/17
Trischa Kyle 5/15/17 7/7/17
Tina Poe 4/1/13 7/12/17
Brent Schmitz 8/24/16 7/7/17
Michele Snyder 4/1/15 11/18/11; 5/8/15

 

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More Delays, This Time in Court

In the Court hearing this morning, the Judge considered the City’s motion to “quash” as a motion to continue, and set a date for a hearing on status for September 18, 2017. The City Attorney claimed we had not notified her appropriately about the hearing date (although we served our notice to the City Office, the same place the Attorney General used to communicate with the City). Texts we received from the City Attorney less than 24 hours after the notice was delivered to City Hall show that there was no problem with her being aware of the hearing.

When the complaint was originally served back in May, the Sheriff served Carol McGhygy as FOIA Officer, but apparently that does not qualify as notice being served on the City (this was what the City Attorney claimed, and the Judge affirmed), so we now must serve the City individually from the FOIA Officer. Confusing, we know, but the process matters, so we will now serve the City as well. The City Attorney waited until this moment to inform anyone of that concern, in spite of having the complaint for nearly three months.

The City also filed a motion to dismiss. The Judge asked how soon we would be ready to respond, and we replied “we’re ready now, the City has not provided all documents,” the Judge then asked how soon to provide a written response, we said “tomorrow morning,” he smiled, and set the date for Friday. We’ll submit our written response tomorrow, and when we are back in court on September 18th, he can see that the City has not complied with our request.

Unfortunately, this serves as another delay, at the City’s request, that will further postpone gaining access to information in FOIA requests that were originally filed in April, four months ago (even though the statute allows only five days). We are confident that the court will ultimately require the City to provide all information to the citizens of Nauvoo, just as the Attorney General recently did. This is simply delaying the inevitable.

We are happy to comply with the courts procedural rules, and believe they are an integral part of the judicial system.  We now have a copy of the Ninth Circuit Court rules and the State Supreme Court rules, and are reviewing them to ensure we comply. The City, through its attorney appears concerned about compliance with court rules, without the same concern for compliance with the State’s FOIA law.
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Resolutions…and Ordinances Signal Improvement

Earlier today, we visited the Nauvoo City office to request copies of the proposed ordinance, and resolutions for tomorrow’s City Council meeting.  We received copies and left the office, only to realize that we had not been given one document which is specifically referred to in resolution 2017-4, missing was the “proposed agreement with Kimberly Orth (“Independent Contractor Agreement
to Perform Professional Services (Executive Director of Tourism)”)…attached to this resolution.”  Our copy did not include a copy of the proposed agreement with the Tourism Director.  It’s ironic that once again, an agreement associated with this position was not provided.

We went back to the City Office immediately, and there, within the stack of documents, where our requested pages were originally retrieved to make a copy, was the proposed agreement. It was then copied for us.  It is frustrating that it was not included in the first request, considering the history of gaining access to anything related to this position. However, we don’t believe it should derail positive efforts in other areas.

Our opinion is that this new Tourism Director agreement should be considered, prepared and recommended to the City Council by the new Hotel Motel Board, as referenced in the City Ordinance.  The new Board should have the opportunity to provide input, based on the direction this new ordinance, and new board provides.  No action should be taken on this agreement, in our opinion, in this meeting. If the City Council had previously approved a contract, perhaps this would be appropriate. But in our review of City Council Meeting Minutes, and prior contracts, this is not the case. In fact, no Board has ever recommended to the City Council approval of any agreement. This can easily be corrected, and should be. This is the way to set the tone for a properly functioning Hotel Motel Board, and demonstrate the nature of this relationship going forward.

Also obtained from the City, with no hesitation, were copies of the proposed ordinance restructuring the Hotel Motel Board (2017-7), and the proposed resolution relating to professional services with Mayor John McCarty’s company, Outlaw Tee’s (2017-5).

First the restructured Hotel Motel Board: This ordinance does a fair job of mandating the structure and responsibilities of the new Board, and adds some additional review requirements, which we were really happy to see. To be clear, the previous ordinance did provide direction on spending of funds, and required City Council approval, but the day-to-day operation of the Hotel Motel Board in the past ignored this requirement.  The real impact of this Ordinance will be compliance, and we believe the Mayor is committed to ensuring compliance.

On resolution 2017-5, approving a Professional Services relationship with the Mayor’s company, Outlaw Tee’s, we will limit our observation to one item. In the past we have pointed out the failure of the Mayor to correctly complete his Statements of Economic Interest. Prior to considering any additional agreement, we believe at least the current statement should be corrected, as an acknowledgement to the Citizens that potential conflicts have existed, and were not properly addressed. We met with the County Clerk this morning (August 7, 2017), and an amended Statement has not been provided to his office. Doing so would seem to be a good first step. However, the presence of this item on the agenda at all, putting it out for public discussion, is appreciated.

Editor’s Comments:

It is really great to see these changes. However we got here, this has the potential to be an important new day for Nauvoo. Citizens should be encouraged to be involved, make their concerns known, and stand up. As citizens, our concerns are not limited to Hotel Motel, or who sells what to the City. The issue with the Hotel Motel Board have been going on long before openNauvoo (just look at how many FOIA requests, prior to openNauvoo, were related to Hotel Motel Board information), and only the hesitation to provide documents to citizens caused us to take it to the Attorney General. There are a number of issues that have been, and still will be, a focus for citizens. With persistence, we can have input, and in partnership with our elected officials, improve things.

So, while the events of this next City Council meeting are important, and need to be considered carefully, let’s remember that it will take all of us. Change is not all that hard. Improvement can be very hard. Improvement is what happens after we decide change is necessary, and is defined by what we do together.

Thank you to everyone involved in this effort, and thank you to Mayor McCarty for moving forward with change, and we believe, improvements.  More will be done in the future, but these steps forward can help.

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City Council Meeting Could Be a Turning Point For Nauvoo

The week of August 7th, 2017, could turn out to be a very significant one for Nauvoo.  The Nauvoo City Council Meeting Tuesday night, August 8th will be particularly ground-breaking, as the City determines how the Attorney General’s opinion relating Hotel Motel “Board” figures in the grand scheme of Nauvoo City government.  The opportunity exists for the City Council to set a new tone for public involvement in general, as well as a new direction for tourism in particular. We are hopeful that this meeting will bring new focus and excitement to tourism discussions, economic development,  and the benefits they bring to Nauvoo. In addition, it could lead to broader discussions about fiscal responsibility, and accountability.

The agenda is posted here on openNAUVOO, and includes other items for discussion, including:

  • New Hotel Motel ordinances
  • New Tourism Director contract
  • New fees for Mediacom Cable
  • Professional Services agreement with the Mayor’s company, Outlaw Tee’s.
  • New Chief of Police appointment

We will try to gather additional information on the new resolutions, and ordinances prior to the meeting Tuesday evening and post what we can here on openNAUVOO.

This meeting will be streamed live on the openNauvoo facebook page.

This week will also include the court hearing on the complaint regarding failure to comply with multiple FOIA requests (which still have not been fully complied with). This hearing is August 9th at 10am in the County Courthouse in Carthage.

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More Documents Received From Nauvoo City…More Questions

We received today, additional documents related to our February 27, 2017 FOIA request.  The cover letter indicates the City feels it has fully complied with our request and the Attorney General’s Opinion received on July 20th. We are still reviewing all documents received, but do not believe this is the case.

What was interesting in the documents received, is that there are several “Executive Sessions” related to the Tourism Director position that are still be withheld. We have previously requested that the Mayor review these minutes and supply to us at least a redacted copy.  We will continue to pursue access to these minutes.

There was valuable information revealed in these documents, however. We did learn that Brenda Logan did submit her resignation as a result of the hiring of her daughter, Kim Orth. The Board seemingly did not understand the conflict of interest it was creating for itself when Clive Moon presented a motion to refuse her resignation. To Brenda Logan’s credit, she abstained from the vote to hire her daughter. It is unclear what role anyone played in the selection process, since we have been denied access these discussions so far. More is coming on this problem.

In addition, the advertisement for the position was supplied, and clearly states that “resumes” are being requested for the position of Tourism Director. Not bids for a contract.  This is supported in the Meeting Minutes of April 27, 2017 which further state that:

“A motion was made by Clive Moon…to offer Kim Orth the Tourism Director Position with benefits based on city of Nauvoo employees…”, the meeting continues with discussions on salary ranges “with the 40 hour per week position.”

All information continues to point to this position being considered an employee from its inception, while at the same time ignoring State and Nauvoo laws and ordinances related to hiring.

While all this advertising, interviewing and discussion were going on, it is interesting that just a few days latter a contract is signed, stating that Kim Orth is now a contractor. Somehow, between the events of the April 27, 2017 meeting where she is offered the position as a City Employee (by the Hotel Motel Board), and May 1, when a contract is signed by Terry Marler, Hotel Motel Board Chairman, the arrangement has changed to an independent contractor position, with no additional public hearing, however flawed those hearings may have been, and no new advertising for bids for what is now a new City contract.

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