With its January 9th and 10th agenda, the Missouri State Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers exhibited yet another example of memory loss. Just weeks prior, the State Board voted to have one or more special meetings on seller records and the financial examination process. The motion approved by the Board was to have those meetings at ‘future date to be determined’. Since that vote was made at the beginning of a morning open session when this author was the only member of the public present, I sought clarification of the Board vote during the afternoon open session. The Board did then clarify the special meetings would be at some future date to be determined. But a mere three weeks later, our seller records and examination proposals were included on the January 9th and 10th agenda.
There are only three explanations for the change in meeting dates. The State Board revisited its infamous strategy of waiting until after the closed session to reconvene in open after the public had left. Or, maybe the State Board revised the December vote by mail ballot. Or, did the Board Chairman and Executive Director set the January agenda in disregard of the Board’s December vote?
With regard to the infamous ‘wait until the public leaves’ strategy, see our post “Missouri’s Funeral Board: Returning to the Scene of the Crime”. The January 6, 2016 meeting minutes reflect that record keeping and examination outlines were tabled at one point and that another motion was subsequently approved by a 3-0 vote. Those minutes do not comply with state law because they fail to address the Board Chairman’s vote, or whether he was present or absent. Nor do the minutes reflect the open discussion that led the public to believe that the seller record and examination issues would be taken up after the staff provided more definitive record requirements. The minutes also fail to accurately reflect that the Board went into closed session to discuss other matters, and subsequently reconvened into open with three members (or was it four?). The short Board then approved the staff proposals submitted in December. What we don’t know is whether there was any collusion among the Board members during the 1/6/16 closed session to re-convene in open session and ratify the staff proposals that the industry opposed. If the Board got away with it once, could they do it again? Without accurate minutes of the December 2017 meeting, anything could be possible.
Regarding mail ballots, the State Board website does not reflect any such meetings since January 2017. If there was a mail ballot vote to change the time for special meetings from “to be determined at a future date” to January 9th and 10th, the Board has violated Missouri’s Sunshine Law. It is one thing to drag one’s feet in providing timely and accurate minutes of open meetings, but is quite another to hold meetings without any notice to the public.
That leaves the possibility that the Chairman and Executive Director are acting in disregard of the Board’s December vote. We are not quite sure of the full implications of this level of misconduct, but it has only been ten years since the State Board was punished by the Federal Trade Commission. (The Chairman was a member of the State Board at that time, a fact the FTC will not forget.)
The State Board has been challenged from time to time to provide timely minutes of open meeting sessions. The delays run from several months to years. Such delays can lead to memory loss on the part of staff and/or Board members. The State Board recognized this problem a few years ago, but the public is left to speculate what happened. But, the current State Board Chairman previously provided one solution to avoiding Board memory loss: video record both the open and closed sessions of State Board meetings. Chairman McGhee served on the State Board about ten years ago and when his term expired, he would attend the Board meetings to record them. At that time, he suggested that someone needed to keep an eye on the Board. Since the public cannot attend Board’s closed sessions, can the industry trust the Chairman or the Executive Director to carry out his proposal? In raising the Chairman’s solution, we assume the Chairman intends to have the audio on when recording Board meetings.
We will look at other cures to memory loss in future posts.