Gavel

Metro Creative

A Clay County judge finds the Village of Oakwood Park violated the Sunshine Law in regard to posted meeting notices.

CLAY COUNTY — Two officials appointed to fill open seats on the Village of Oakwood Park Board of Trustees have been vacated from office after a Clay County court judgment concluded the community’s leadership violated the Sunshine Law.

Oakwood Park is a village of roughly 189 residents that encompasses a square area off North Oak Trafficway near Gladstone Fire Station No. 1. Village leadership consists of five elected leaders who serve on a Board of Trustees that typically meets at 7 p.m. the third Tuesday of the month at Oakview City Hall, according to the village’s website.

In the lawsuit, resident Karol Hughes on behalf of several other residents, sued the village, claiming village leaders violated the state’s open records law by failing to post a public meeting notice for a July 2021 meeting and that the board failed to keep minutes, including votes taken, for the meeting. Defendants for the village were listed as Trustees Laurie Draughon, Angela Koester and Russ Trollinger. Draughon, who serves as village clerk, is noted to record minutes for the board during meetings.

At the July 20 meeting, which took place at Summit Grill restaurant and not the typical public meeting location, two new trustees were appointed after those seats were resigned by former trustees who had been elected in April of that year.

“At this meeting, these defendants voted to appoint defendants Don Draughon and Damien Salazar to serve as replacement trustees. There is no evidence that any member of the public or any residents of the village attended this meeting,” states court records.

Witnesses in the suit testified they regularly watched for meeting notices on the village message board regarding the July 20, 2021 meeting and one was never posted. The clerk testified that she posted a timely meeting notice in a public location.

“Multiple resident witnesses testified that they had attended the May and August 2021 board of Trustees meetings upon seeing the public notices. Multiple witnesses further testified that they only found out about the board resignations and replacements at the August 2021 meeting,” reads the lawsuit judgment.

In the judgment rendered this year, the court noted defendants produced a meeting notice during the discovery phase of the suit that was titled “Work Session-Closed (Emergent),” but there was no evidence the notice was posted in a public location before the meeting and that there was no evidence the meeting location scheduled, a local restaurant, could accommodate the public. The meeting notice, according to the judgment, also did not reference the exception allowed for a closed meeting of the public body as is required by the Sunshine Law and that there was no evidence of a vote of the trustees to enter into a closed meeting.

“Ms. Draughon testified that accepting resignations of trustees and appointing their replacement was a personnel matter; however, the persons resigning were publicly elected trustees, not employees of the village. The conduct of the meeting reasonably infers that defendants held the meeting with the expectation that the public would not be present,” reads the court judgment.

The court found that trustees violated the Sunshine Law by failing to post prior notice and an agenda of the meeting to the public, but did not fail to record minutes from the meeting as the clerk took hand-written notes noting the votes approving the newly appointed board members.

As a result of the court’s findings, the board’s vote to appoint Don Draughon and Salazar were voided and the village was ordered to set a public meeting that is properly noticed with an agenda where replacement trustees will be selected. The notice and agenda must be posted to the village’s physical message boards and website no less than 24 hours prior to the meeting. The judge also ordered the village to pay $1,000 civil penalty and the plaintiff’s attorney and lawsuit fees totaling $4,727.30.

The village clerk Draughon declined to comment on the suit. Hughes also declined to comment.

As a result of the board appointments being voided, the village is accepting resumes until Saturday, Jan. 21, from those who wish to fill the unexpired terms that end in April of this year.

“The board will appoint two qualified candidates at the next meeting. Any questions or concerns, please contact the village email:

villageofoakwoodpark@gmail.com,” reads the village website. The next board meeting is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 24.