By Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The Joplin Globe, Oct. 27

No one is ever going to mistake the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for a transparent and public-minded organization.

The latest shadow fell over this agency following questions about whether it and the Missouri attorney general’s office have been forthcoming with documents regarding the launch of medical marijuana in Missouri. The launch was bound to be controversial, with winners and losers. A Sarcoxie family, the Callicoats, want to know more about the decision to deny their request to grow medical marijuana. To that end, they have requested records from DHSS and are now alleging, as part of their lawsuit, that the agency and the AG’s office concealed documents that are subject to the laws of discovery and that the Missouri Sunshine law, which governs open records and open meetings, was violated.

The Callicoats and their attorneys argue: “All of this behavior appears aimed at the same goal: to prevent anyone, especially this court, from being able to examine the rules of the medical marijuana program in the full light of day, to prohibit plaintiffs access to the public records the defendants are legally obligated to provide, and to do all they can to delay the hearing on this matter on October 29, 2020.”

The courts will have to sort this out, but it appears something was amiss because on June 15, DHSS provided the Missouri House of Representatives with roughly 37,000 records outlining their contacts with people in the industry, documents that help explain how decisions were made. At that same time, the Callicoats and their attorney were also seeking these kinds of documents from the department, but they claim that it took until August to receive only 15,000 records. They had to file a separate Sunshine request with the House to get the rest of the documents.



Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office has called the allegations that his office and DHSS withheld records and violated Missouri’s Sunshine Law “frivolous” and “baseless.”

We’ll wait and see.

What doesn’t appear to be in dispute, according to the lawsuit, is that Randall Williams, director of DHSS, conducted state business on his personal cellphone.

The suit alleges, “Dr. Williams further acknowledged that he never took any steps to save his text messages discussing state business to a state computer, even though that is expressly required under the Sunshine Law.”

Former Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley was unambiguous in his interpretation of Missouri law: “Text messages should be treated like, and subject to, the same analysis as emails,” Hawley said in 2017. It does not matter whether the messages are sent on a state-owned phone or on a personal cellphone - texts and phone calls of public officials conducting public business belong to the public.

Given the difficulty the media and the public have had getting records from DHSS, given the agency’s history of being uncooperative and concocting road blocks to releasing public records, and given that DHSS was just fined $12,000 in April for multiple violations of state law governing open records, we think it’s time for new public-minded and transparent leadership at the agency, regardless of who wins next week’s election.

—-

The Kansas City Star, Nov. 2

Last week, the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners adjourned, fled and hid out in closed session until the civil rights protesters who were there to demand a vote on whether to fire Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith had left the building.

Once they had gone, board members reemerged, and went back to pretending everything is fine. It isn’t, though, and won’t be without serious reforms that include Smith’s departure.

Instead, the Kansas City Police Department just keeps giving us fresh examples of the kind of inhuman treatment of Black Kansas Citians that convinced us to call for Smith’s firing months ago: An unarmed Black 15-year-old on his knees and putting up no resistance has his face smashed into concrete, and that’s just another Thursday night. A Black woman who is nine months pregnant is thrown onto her belly and handcuffed while an officer holds his knee on her back.

Still, the board that theoretically oversees the police department continues to pelt Smith with rose petals. And sure, its members can continue to duck protesters at police headquarters. But city leaders can’t continue to ignore the reality that the need for change is urgent.

The protesters deserve the vote they’re asking for and won’t get. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says “that would just be a purely performative act” and because it wouldn’t result in Smith’s ouster, could lead to even more frustration.

But here’s how well failing to address the pain of so many in any substantive way is working: On Saturday, local civil rights leaders began speaking the language that corporate Kansas City understands. They wrote NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and asked him to keep the Kansas City Police Department’s “extreme hostility” toward Black people in mind when considering the city as a possible temporary home for the Toronto Raptors.

“There are some issues which supersede fun and economic interests,” the letter said. “Although Kansas City is a great sports city, it is also a city where law enforcement has demonstrated extreme hostility and excessive force towards Black people.”

We aren’t likely to lure the Toronto Raptors here, anyway. But Kansas City’s civil rights community just sent up a flare that from here on out, it’s going to be taking on economic power.

And that’s a promise that will be a lot harder to ignore than the strong words that sent police board members running.

Lucas said the letter changes nothing because every city in America, Kansas City included, is already trying to make sure people of all races feel safe. “I believe Black lives matter whether we have the Toronto Raptors playing here for a few months or not. … I understand where people are coming from, but that’s something I wake up caring about every day.”

People of all races don’t feel safe here, though, and don’t have reason to.

Gwendolyn Grant, president of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City and one of those who signed and sent the letter, said, “Over the summer, the mayor and other civic leaders expressed a commitment to Black Lives Matter but failed to remove a bigoted and incompetent police chief. I hope they recognize that the continued presence of Rick Smith is not only detrimental to substantive police reform and authentic community-police relationships. It will have a deleterious impact on our convention and tourism business.”

Remember when the NCAA threatened to move the Final Four, and maybe even its headquarters, out of Indianapolis over legislation that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gay people? It was the potential loss of dollars and prestige, expressed in a memorable front-page editorial in the Indianapolis Star, that sent then-Gov. Mike Pence and Indiana state lawmakers scurrying to amend that law five years ago.

Likewise, this letter to the NBA is a dead-serious signal that the new corporate employers and institutions so crucial to Kansas City’s future are not going to choose a city that continues to mistreat its Black citizens. Why would they?

____

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 1

By the Editorial Board

Efforts between St. Louis city and county to coordinate policing activities and boost cooperation are laudable and could well deserve expansion if a current, private-sector-spurred experiment proves successful in Jennings and northwestern St. Louis. The business community’s involvement in making the region safer is not just important but essential. When it comes to transparency, however, this effort falls far short of what’s required by law and by minimal accountability standards to ensure the public is kept fully informed of what’s happening.

The business world is under no obligation to explain private initiatives to the general public. So it’s entirely possible that Centene Corp. and other major companies saw no problem secretly funding and organizing a program where county police team up with their city counterparts to jointly patrol the Jennings area and a northwestern St. Louis city district. Responsibility fell upon St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, Mayor Lyda Krewson and other government officials to keep the public informed.

They didn’t, and now this well-intended initiative has blown up in their faces. They appear to have done everything possible to keep the public from finding out until the Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Kohler broke the story on Tuesday. Even then, Krewson’s office tried to downplay it. Blowback from her mishandling last year of a county-city policing initiative for MetroLink - also mediated by a Centene executive - may well be the reason for Krewson’s fear of public accountability.

But considering that the same players and same questions of public accountability are at issue again now, wouldn’t it seem that all involved had learned their lesson? Page’s office has been even more opaque, asserting it had no documentation explaining the role of a private consulting firm, Teneo, in coordinating the joint policing initiative. Teneo consultants met individually with each of the five members of the county Board of Police Commissioners to brief them on the initiative - an apparent violation of Sunshine Law provisions designed to prevent public bodies from conducting business in secret and meeting individually to circumvent public meeting requirements.

One commissioner, Dr. LJ Punch, is resigning because of the secrecy, as Kohler reported on Thursday. Several elected officials in Jennings also expressed anger over having been excluded from discussions when it was their county-patrolled jurisdiction at the center of the experiment.

This newspaper has lauded the effort by Centene and other major employers to get involved and boost pressure on elected officials to tackle the region’s violent crime problems. Centene Chief Executive Michael Neidorff has made clear that crime and quality-of-life issues serve as a major impediment when local employers try to lure top-flight outside talent.

It’s not their initiative that deserves critical scrutiny but rather the misguided assumption by government officials that the public somehow can’t be trusted and needs to be kept in the dark.

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