It’s amazing, the Ole Seagull never thought he would see a government entity that operated more in secret than the city of Branson administration that was in place prior to the 2007 elections, but he was wrong. The way the Branson Lakes Area Tourism Community Enhancement District Board (Board) decides to spend millions of dollars in public funds, comparatively speaking, makes that old administration appear like it was conducting its business publically on the “Wheel of Fortune.”
Missouri’s Sunshine Law is very specific stating “It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law.” Even where the law authorizes exceptions to that policy it states, “Sections 610.010 to 610.200 shall be liberally construed and their exceptions strictly construed to promote this public policy.”
Oh, it gets even more specific. The Sunshine Law goes on to state, “Nothing in sections 610.010 to 610.028 shall be construed as to require a public governmental body to hold a closed meeting, record or vote to discuss or act upon any matter.”
A favorite move for the TCED Board is the standard alleged use of two exceptions to the Sunshine Law. The first is Subsection 610.021(1) relating to “Legal actions, causes of action or litigation involving a public governmental body and any confidential or privileged communications between a public governmental body or its representatives and its attorneys.” The second is Subsection 610.021(12) relating to “Sealed bids and related documents, until the bids are opened; and sealed proposals and related documents or any documents related to a negotiated contract until a contract is executed, or all proposals are rejected.”
When one considers the way the TCED Board awarded the initial contract to the “Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, a division of the Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce” in October of 2006, it makes a mockery out of the intent of the Sunshine Law. The TCED Board invoked the provisions of 610.021(12) to keep the public out of the process until they made their decision and announced it.
No member of the public knew who had made what type of presentation or when while competing for the millions of dollars to market Branson. Even under the old Branson administration the process was very public including public presentations by each entity interested in doing the marketing for the city. Why all the secrecy back in 2006? No one knows because it was all done behind closed doors with the public excluded, but were an Ole Seagull asked he’d opine, “They wanted to make sure the “right” organization got the contract.”
That contract expires Sep. 31 this year. Any bets on who is going to get the new contract or if the TCED Board will have enough respect for the tax-paying public to honor the intent of the Sunshine Law?