KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Documents provided exclusively to The Heartlander show Mayor Quinton Lucas and a quorum of the Kansas City Council excluded Northland council members in secret texts and email exchanges before their May 20 vote to cut $42 million from KCPD’s budget.
The newly released emails and texts, obtained by conservative nonprofit Liberty Alliance USA through a public records request, raise questions about whether Mayor Lucas and the Council’s majority violated Missouri’s open meetings law.
Documents obtained by Liberty Alliance show nine City Council members discussing over email which of them would agree to co-sponsor the Mayor’s police funding ordinances, just hours before the same-day vote on May 20. The four Northland Council members were excluded from the emails about the plan, but a quorum of the remaining council members participated, along with City Attorney Matt Gigliotti and the Mayor’s general counsel Jane Brown.
The emails show that on the morning of the vote, Brown sent an email to eight of the 12 city council members and Mayor Lucas asking them to confirm their prior agreements to co-sponsor the ordinances shifting funding from the KCPD.
Included in the communications were Councilmembers Brandon Ellington, Melissa Robinson, Eric Bunch, Ryana Parks-Shaw, Lee Barnes, Andrea Bough and Kevin McManus, along with Mayor Lucas and his chief of staff. Northland Council members Dan Fowler, Heather Hall, Kevin O’Neill and Teresa Loar were excluded. Ellington replied “all” to the other seven city council members and the mayor stating that he would co-sponsor the ordinances.
Texts obtained by Liberty Alliance show the mayor’s chief of staff, John Stamm, sending advance copies of the ordinance to the 9 council members and plotting a same-day strategy for the vote.
In a text exchange the morning of May 20, Stamm informed councilman Bunch that “We have all 9 votes from the not northland,” and later, that “We’ve got 9 for same day.” Stamm texted councilwoman Robinson shortly before the vote saying “there is appetite for same day”.
Missouri’s open meetings and records law defines any meeting of a quorum of a public governmental body where any public business is discussed as a “public meeting.” Council rules indicate there is a quorum of the Council where at least seven council members are present. The law requires advance public notice of such meetings.
Within a few hours of the emails among the quorum of council members, and in a rare “same day” vote, the 9 members who’d conferred in secret voted to pass the ordinances removing $42 million from the police budget.
The sole “no” votes were the four Northland council members excluded from the prior meetings and discussions. The first and only noticed public meeting to discuss the police funding ordinances was held the same day the measures were introduced and passed—despite a quorum of the Council having met in secret before the vote.
MISSOURI’S SUNSHINE LAW
Stephanie Bell, a Jefferson City attorney, said Missouri law requires deliberations among a quorum of a public body be conducted in the open, in accordance with Missouri’s Sunshine Law.
“Under the Sunshine Law, a meeting takes place when a quorum of the body gathers to discuss public business,” Bell said. “If there was a quorum and there was a discussion of public business, then there’s a potential violation of the Sunshine Law.”
When a public body takes an action that is seemingly illegal, someone can either file a complaint with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office or file a lawsuit.
First District Councilwoman Heather Hall was unaware of the emails among the quorum of her fellow council members preceding the vote. She called it “very suspect” for them to discuss business without everyone on the City Council being informed.
“We don’t all have to agree on the topic,” Hall told The Heartlander. “But what we do need to do is give [proposed legislation] due process and let it go through the testimony process, let it go through the committee, let the public testify, let all of our colleagues have the opportunity to read something before it’s introduced.
“None of that happened and they did it very secretly,” she said.
Second District Councilwoman Teresa Loar was also surprised to hear that a quorum of her Council colleagues exchanged emails about their plans for co-sponsoring the ordinances. She believes that the subsequent vote to cut funding from KCPD does not align with the citizens of Kansas City.
“The constituency of this city is not in favor of defunding the police,” Loar said. “They did this through secret meetings and they slammed it through the council on a same-day vote.”
“To exclude any council member from anything of official business with the city is wrong,” Loar said.
A SECRET MEETING IN THE RAIN
Other documents show the Mayor met in secret with City Manager Bryan Platt the Sunday before the vote to inform him of the plan.
In a text exchange between councilman Bunch and Manager Platt the afternoon of the vote, Bunch wrote, “Ooh boy we are about to give you a lot of work. I hope the mayor gave you a heads up on this.” Platt replied, “Sunday. In the rain secretly in my car. I’m actually really excited about this opportunity. The solutions are so obvious and awesome and we finally get the change to do stuff.” Platt later told Bunch, “KCPD is about to sue us also by the way.”
On May 28, the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners filed a lawsuit against Lucas and the City Council, claiming the funding cuts were unlawful and that the commissioners have “exclusive management and control” of the department’s budget. The case is pending in Jackson County Circuit Court.
The Heartlander reached out to Lucas, Platt and Bunch for comment on the matter, but none responded by the time of publishing.
With the new revelation that state law may have been violated by discussing public business in secret, Lucas and the City Council shouldn’t expect the public scrutiny to die down anytime soon.
“People are still extremely upset about [the budget cuts], but if they find out that these council members had secret meetings about this, I think it just adds insult to injury,” Loar said.
If a court determines the Council and Mayor violated the Sunshine law by failing to notify the full council and public of their secret meeting, it’s possible the May 20 vote on the ordinances could be invalidated.
Missouri law allows a court to void actions taken in violation of the Sunshine law if it finds that the violation was purposeful and the public interest in enforcing the state’s open meetings law outweighs the public’s interest in the action taken in the improperly closed meeting.
“It’s bad enough that Mayor Lucas and the City Council defunded the police in the middle of a crime surge, but now we know that they broke the law while doing it,” said Chris Vas, executive director of Liberty Alliance.
“The liberal council members are playing games with the Sunshine law by conducting business in secret. Missouri courts won’t give the council members a pass just because they managed to discuss the issue in a way that the public could not participate.”
Vas told The Heartlander that Liberty Alliance is still reviewing thousands of pages of communications, including emails and texts, that it received from the City in response to its request for documents related to the May 20 vote.
“We are continuing to review the documents provided in response to our Sunshine request and will release more over the coming weeks,” Vas said. “It’s already apparent that the Mayor and Council ignored the Sunshine law when they secretly planned how to defund the police. There is only one way to remedy this situation – the vote on the ordinances needs to be undone, and those who violated the public’s trust need to be held accountable.”