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Jury says Cooper County health board broke state open meetings laws

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KMIZ

BOONVILLE, Mo. (KMIZ) -

A jury this week said Cooper County's health board violated the state's open meetings laws when debating possible farming rules.

The jury heard arguments from a group of farmers opposed to rules the county's heath board were crafting in 2018 over concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. That group accused the health board of not properly detailing what the closed meetings were about, why they were closed and discussing issues in those meetings not previously announced.

The county launched into its debate over CAFO regulations when Minnesota-based Pipestone proposed a farm that would bring thousands of hogs to southern Cooper County. The health board held a series of meetings in 2018 to draft rules limiting how much manure farmers could use on their property that came from the CAFO.

The jury found the board had "knowingly" violated five different provisions of the open meetings law, also known as the Sunshine Law. Brent Haden, an attorney for the farmers, said the group wanted to operate their farms without the county's "overreach."

"The law gives elected officials in general and agency bureaucrats a lot of latitude in a lot of different contexts to make rules that can significantly affect your life," Haden said. "At the very least, if they're going to do that, then they should expose to the light of day what they're doing, the reasons they're doing it, the why and the how of what they're doing."

The county could face as much as a $1,000 fine for each of the knowing violations. Judge Robert Koffman will decide on the penalty in the future. The Cooper County Public Health Center did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The lawsuit also challenges the rules the county placed on CAFO operation. Cooper County sued the state of Missouri in a separate lawsuit over laws outlawing counties from enacting stringent health rules on agriculture. That lawsuit will go in front of the Supreme Court of Missouri on Sept. 20.

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Lucas Geisler

Lucas Geisler anchors the 5 p.m. show for ABC 17 News and reports on the latest news around mid-Missouri at 9 and 10 p.m.

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