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08/17/93 KANSAS CITY STAR COMPANY v. SUE FULSON

August 17, 1993

KANSAS CITY STAR COMPANY, RESPONDENT,
v.
SUE FULSON, ET AL., APPELLANTS.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JACKSON COUNTY. The Honorable Thomas C. Clark, Judge

Before Breckenridge, P.j.; Shangler, Senior Judge and Spinden, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Breckenridge

The Kansas City Star Company (the Star) sued eight members of the Kansas City School Board (the Board) claiming they violated the Missouri Open Meetings Law, §§ 610.010 to 610.030, RSMo Cum. Supp. 1992, *fn1 by attending a weekend workshop. Prior to the workshop, the Board had experienced difficulties functioning effectively as a decision-making body due to personality differences. The Board had received negative press coverage because of its disharmony. The purpose of the workshop was to improve interpersonal communications among the Board members. The trial court found a violation of the Open Meetings Law, fined the eight Board members and issued an injunction against future violations. Appellants raise four points on appeal arguing that the trial court erred in: 1) finding that appellants violated the Open Meetings Law because the workshop was not a "public meeting;" 2) holding that appellants' constitutional rights to free association, free speech and privacy were not violated; 3) holding that the workshop constituted a purposeful violation of the Missouri Open Meetings Law; and 4) entering a permanent injunction against the Board. *fn2 The judgment is reversed.

The Kansas City School Board consists of nine unpaid members who are elected to represent subdistricts within the School District of Kansas City, Missouri. This appeal concerns the following six members who were serving on the Kansas City School Board in May of 1989: Sue Fulson, Dr. Sandra Walker, William DeFoor, Jr., Paul B. Ballard, James P. Bonadonna and Dr. Julia H. Hill. Appellants and two other members of the Board, Fred Heine and Carl Struby, attended a two-day workshop on the weekend of May 6, 1989 at The Inn at Grand Glaize in Osage Beach, Missouri. *fn3 The workshop was funded entirely by the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City and conducted by Dr. Harvey Thomas, a psychologist.

While the workshop was still in the organizational phase, the Board sought legal advice from attorney Allan V. Hallquist to determine whether the proposed workshop would violate the Missouri Open Meetings Law. Hallquist advised the Board that the workshop would not violate the Open Meetings Law if the Board only discussed the improvement of interpersonal relations and communication skills. Hallquist also advised the Board that they could not discuss school business at the workshop. Hallquist was retained to attend the entire workshop to insure that the Open Meetings Law was not violated. The Board did not give public notice of the workshop.

On Friday evening, May 5, 1989, Board members Fulson, Walker, Hill, Heine and Bonadonna met Hallquist for dinner at the Inn at Grand Glaize. Board members Struby and Ballard arrived at the Inn later that evening. On Saturday, May 6, 1989, these seven Board members and Hallquist had breakfast together. After breakfast the Board convened in a room reserved for its activities. As Dr. Thomas began the workshop, Michael Mansur and Bill Dalton, both reporters for The Kansas City Star newspaper, entered the room to cover the meetings for the newspaper. Hallquist explained to Mansur and Dalton that the workshop was not a meeting open to the public. The reporters objected to their exclusion, but left as requested. After the reporters left the meeting room, Board member DeFoor arrived.

During the workshop, appellants participated in role-playing, examined their behavior as a group and discussed ways to improve the Board's communication and teamwork. On Saturday afternoon, the Board was given a sheet titled "Evidence of Interpersonal Competence" which listed tenets for constructive group interaction. The Board was to study the list and consider it in terms of their relationships with each other. The Board was then instructed to prioritize the items listed as to the most important in terms of being able to deal effectively with each other. A part of this process occurred while the Board members were divided into two consulting groups. The record does not reveal the identity of the Board members in each group.

On Sunday morning, the two groups met jointly to report the results of their Discussions. Dr. Thomas' handwritten list entitled "Results and Recommendations" was compiled by combining the suggestions from each group as follows:

1. Agree to adopt and abide by Robert's Rules of Order.

* Have a workshop on same

* Ask Dr. Bowman to view a tape of one of our meetings.

2. Invest Carl with "Sergeant of Arms" powers.

3. One person speaks at a time, and to the Chair.

4. Say "thank you" at end of remarks.

5. Laugh (use humor) to lighten atmosphere.

6. Check automated system to speak ...


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