Today, five weeks worth of town hall-style meetings were supposed to begin in Ferguson, Mo., allowing residents to express their issues to city council members. The meetings were deemed necessary in the wake of Michael Brown's fatal shooting at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson last month. They'll still take place, but the media and non-residents have been banned from attending.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, meetings were open to the public to provide what Mayor James Knowles III described as "full transparency." However, city spokesman Devin James announced that the Department of Justice's Community Relations Service had asked that reporters be kept out due to fear that their presence would shape conversations.
"It allows us to have a more true dialogue," James told the Post-Dispatch.
Furthermore, Department of Justice spokesperson Dena Iverson issued a statement providing confirmation that the Community Relations Service would supervise the meetings:
Iverson also pointed to the unit’s mission statement, which says the service “provides confidential mediation, facilitation, training, and consulting services to help communities enhance their ability to alleviate, solve, and respond to future conflicts more effectively.”
Stephanie Karr, an attorney for the city, said that while this decision isn't a violation, the city will not enforce the ban aggressively:
City Attorney Stephanie Karr said she believed the decision to restrict attendance to residents and certain invited guests at the town hall meetings doesn’t violate Missouri’s Sunshine Law because only two council members would be present at each meeting. Without a quorum, such gatherings of council members do not violate the state’s open meetings requirements, Karr said. Karr, however, also said that the city would not do anything to keep reporters from attending, but that would be up to the Department of Justice.
The first meeting will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. tonight, and another meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.
[via St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
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