Mayor in southwest Missouri town defends passage of new pot law

CLIFF VILLAGE, Mo. | The mayor of this tiny southwest Missouri village said he followed village bylaws and wasn’t aware of state meeting laws when passing a local ordinance to legalize medical marijuana.

Cliff Village Mayor Joe Blundell has be criticized by some area residents after they learned there was no posted notice of a special meeting, which is required by the state’s open-records law. Blundell now acknowledges that the Feb. 1 vote was done by calling each of the board members on the phone.

“It actually states in the village record explicitly that the mayor can call a special meeting at any time, period,” Blundell said. “I was just operating off what my predecessors have done before me at many meetings.”

The village board voted 3-2 to approve the marijuana ordinance. Two of the votes came from Blundell and his father.

Cliff Village, which is near Joplin, has a population of about four dozen. It levies no taxes but receives about $1,300 a year in distributions of state fuel taxes for road repairs and $120 to $200 more in cable TV franchise fees.

Blundell has said the ordinance is strictly symbolic, designed to show grass-roots support for Missouri to legalize medical marijuana, as 13 other states have.

A lawyer with the Missouri Press Association, Jean Maneke, said the mayor’s actions likely violated the Missouri Sunshine Law.

“When you have a body that meets, it has to post notice, either in the location that the body’s offices are or at the location of the meeting,” Maneke said. “Every public body has to have meeting notices; that’s just a basic requirement.”

Blundell said that because of the small size of the village and the lack of a public meeting space, there is no adequate place for such notices to be posted.

“I wasn’t aware of the Sunshine Law, but of course I didn’t receive any training for the position (of mayor),” said Blundell, who has been mayor for six years. “The way the meetings have always been conducted in the past is I’ll call people, or I’ll take notes by” the trustees’ homes.

Several residents have since presented the mayor with a petition calling for his immediate resignation.

“If he does not have the decency to resign and allow us to do something else in the interim to undo the damage he has done to our village’s reputation, he absolutely will be voted out,” said resident Cindy Marlow-Sweet.

Blundell has said he used marijuana until recently to help him cope with pain from a 2000 train accident that left him in a wheelchair.

He said he halted his use of the drug just before the ordinance was adopted, fearing that it would raise his profile too much and that he might be arrested.