City of Hannibal faces lawsuit for closed meeting sessions

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John Lyng addresses Hannibal City Council on Tuesday night. Megan Duncan

HANNIBAL, Mo. —  A lawsuit has been filed against the City of Hannibal regarding their closed council sessions.

John Lyng, former Hannibal mayor, filed the lawsuit on Oct. 20, 2023. 

In his petition, Lyng named each closed session held in 2023 from January through September, including Jan. 17, Feb. 21, March 7, May 2, May 16, June 6, June 20, July 5, July 18, Aug. 1, Aug. 15, and Sept. 5.

Lyng is representing himself in the case, and the City of Hannibal is represented by St. Louis attorney, Timothy Reichardt. 

A hearing is set for Feb. 1 at 10 a.m. at the courthouse in Hannibal before Judge Talley Smith.

Lyng addressed Hannibal City Council on Tuesday night.

Lyng told the council that as they continue to have closed meetings—including the one that they were to have that night—would be added to the lawsuit.

“Being aware of that, it may be something you try to consider to try to minimize any further action closing meetings to the public,” Lyng said. “No subject matter taken up by the city council is required to be closed.”

Lyng suggested to council members to carefully consider it before holding a closed meeting. 

“The citizens of Hannibal are entitled to know how much money is in the bank. They are entitled to know what you’re talking about and what you have under consideration,” Lyng told the council. 

Dobson asked Lyng if he ever held a closed session during his time as the Hannibal Mayor.

Lyng responded that he didn’t believe that he did. 

“I was thinking about that. The provision in the city charter that says all meetings of the city council shall be open to the public goes back to the 1957 city charter. That’s when we went back to the mayor-council form of government which worked pretty well for 40 years,” he said. “I was trying to think, can I remember anybody moving for a closed meeting? I don’t think we did, now I am not going to bet money on that.”

“So any contract or personnel issues and everything was all an open session?” Dobson asked.

Lyng said contract and personnel issues were open to the public.

“My position, as I have enunciated in this petition I filed in the Marion County Circuit Court, is that the Charter says all meetings of the city council shall be open to the public. And that’s what it means,” Lyng said. “I don’t believe that the city council is authorized by the charter to conduct a closed meeting, but that is being done.”                                                                                     

Hannibal City Attorney James Lemon disagrees with Lyng.

“Mr. Lyng is absolutely incorrect that we are never obligated to close a meeting, because there are certain personnel matters which would be absolutely improper to discuss in open session,” Lemon said. “I agree with him that in general, it is an election audit council, but if we are talking about certain personnel matters, I respectfully disagree with him. It would be absolutely improper to speak about an employee’s issue in front of the whole world. They have a right to confidentiality.”

In other news:

Melissa Cogdal reported the new website will be live Wednesday morning.

Council approved Louderman to sign an Emergency Management Grant for $48,563.35 for a new outdoor warning siren.

Council approved service agreement with Hannibal Nutrition Center in the amount of $18,357.

Bill no. 23-038 was unanimously approved, which is an ordinance of the City of Hannibal providing for a member who leaves the service of the city to serve in the armed services or qualifying military deployment to make-up contributions following plan requirements.

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