Former Crocker city administrator sues, says Sunshine Law violated
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Monday, February 9, 2009 4:25 pm
CROCKER, Mo. (Feb. 9, 2009) — One business day after former Crocker City Administrator Joyce Peterson received notice that she had been fired, her attorney filed a lawsuit accusing the city of Sunshine Law violations in their Wednesday night meeting and seeking payment of $5,000 each from the mayor and four aldermen.
“At the meeting, defendant James Morgan (mayor) asked if there was a motion to go into closed session,” according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Pulaski County Circuit Court. “A motion was made to go into closed session and unanimously passed. There was no motion that stated the reason to go into a closed meeting, a vote, or both. The term ‘closed session’ was utilized and whether a meeting, a vote, or both were to occur.”
The lawsuit notes that Peterson’s attorney, Tyce Smith, asked what the closed session would be for; Morgan said it would be for “personnel.” The council then held a closed session from which Morgan was excluded for some of the time and into which Peterson, Police Chief Robert Ishmael, and city employee Diane Dochterman were invited at various times. The council members came out of closed session, the mayor announced that a decision would be made within 72 hours, and on Friday night, a Crocker police officer and two county deputies served Peterson with papers at her home stating that “she was terminated as Crocker City Administrator because of actions called ‘insubordination.’”
In the lawsuit, Smith argued that the Crocker council members violated the Sunshine Law on four grounds: that “there was no motion and vote as to the reason for going into closed session,” that the mayor “announced a purpose of going into a closed meeting without any vote or motion for the action,” that “there was no motion as to go into a closed meeting, a vote or both” despite the term “closed meeting” being utilized, and that the public notice of the meeting “did not give a notice of a potential vote in closed meeting.”
The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the Crocker City Council’s action “should be held void as the public interest in the enforcement of the policy outweighs the public interest in sustaining the validity of the action” and that she be awarded court costs and attorney fees because, according to the lawsuit, the Sunshine Law violation “was made knowingly and purposefully.” The lawsuit also seeks $5,000 in civil penalties against each council member.
Peterson’s situation has generated considerable anger from some area residents. Recent city council meetings have been packed with people; police have had to keep the peace and on one occasion, Ishmael ordered the building cleared after threats of physical violence.
The Crocker City Council is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Monday, but Peterson’s situation isn’t on the agenda and Morgan said Saturday afternoon that he didn’t know if it would be discussed.
The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Mary Sheffield but no trial date has yet been assigned.