Cumley's response to the editorial was sent to city employees on Friday. The city manager said he sent it out "so everyone knows that I disagree with the assertions contained in the editorial."
Here 'tis, in its entirety:
The City of Springfield prides itself on providing open and honest communication with citizens. We routinely fulfill thousands of requests for information annually from both media and citizens. In 2005, 89 of those requests were filed under the Missouri Sunshine Law. Just three of those requests were denied as closed records.
Monday’s editorial ("City Secrecy Patterns Troubling") takes issue with three isolated and unrelated circumstances in which the News-Leader did not immediately receive information it requested. To then extrapolate that as a "pattern of secrecy" is a patently unfair characterization of the way we operate.
Our citizens deserve to know the facts of each situation.
One situation involved a request for police reports in connection with the death of a 13-year-old boy. Juvenile records are closed under state law, not city ordinance. This matter involves an ongoing investigation regarding the circumstances of the death. The News-Leader was provided some "incident report" information about the immediate facts and circumstances of the incident, but was not provided other details related to the investigation, consistent with the juvenile and Sunshine Law statutes. The News-Leader then filed a Sunshine Law request with an unverified "authorization" to release records. The City Attorney’s office recommended that the News-Leader file a "friendly" lawsuit and ask a judge to determine whether the record can be released. It has done so, and the City will promptly respond to the judge’s decision. We don’t believe it serves the taxpayers’ interests to invite lawsuits by knowingly releasing a juvenile record we believe to be closed.
The second situation involved release of a Health Department report regarding an alleged attack on a dog by a dog owned by a member of City Council. In this case, when the request was made the next day, the animal control officer had not yet filed the report. The officers had responded to about 60 calls on that particular day and had to transcribe hand-written notes into incident reports. These very busy officers are routinely allowed several days to complete reports. A supervisor transcribed this report in order to comply with this request for information. In addition, the older records related to this animal were reviewed for release, which is standard practice for records subject to court proceedings. The Sunshine Law grants three days to respond to requests and the City provided the records within that period.
The third situation is the most upsetting to us for a number of reasons. The News-Leader is requesting the name of the employee who was terminated in connection with the investigation into missing funds in the Municipal Court. This employee was terminated under an administrative action. The City Merit Rules include a number of reasons for which employees may be terminated through a progressive disciplinary process. Many of those causes involve no violations of the law. In this situation, the termination was not part of the separate criminal investigation and was not based on a violation of law.
City employees are well aware upon hiring that working for government involves sacrificing their privacy – anyone can learn our salaries, for instance. However, we strongly believe that even public employees are entitled to due process, including this person. We also believe that discipline should be applied in a fair and consistent manner. We do not routinely release records of administrative disciplinary procedures, even terminations. We believe we struck a reasonable balance in this case by releasing the fact that an employee was terminated and is no longer on the City payroll, while still respecting the rights of this individual, who, so far, remains innocent until proven otherwise. (As far as the editorial’s assertion that not naming the terminated employee puts all of the court employees under suspicion, if they are still working there, then they haven’t been the one terminated.)
As City employees, we are sickened by the fact that funds are missing and this investigation is even necessary, but the Sunshine Law makes a clear exception for protecting individual personnel records and the City makes no apologies for its refusal to divulge the name of the employee. If and when the criminal investigation warrants any charges in this case, the name of the individual will become public.
As City Manager, I have apologized to City Council and certainly apologize to the public. This is a violation of the public trust and we have pledged to prosecute any charges aggressively and seek all available restitution. The last thing we want is to hamper this investigation by releasing information sure to be challenged by attorneys.
In a democracy governed by laws, there are bound to be multiple interpretations of complex statutes like the Sunshine Law. On occasion, reasonable people may agree to disagree. These events represent a coincidence of timing, not a breakdown of the public trust. To use these three situations to discredit City employees and our overwhelmingly positive track record of openness and responsiveness is simply irresponsible and unjustified.