March 18, 2005
St. Joseph, Mo. — Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon today filed a lawsuit against St. Joseph Museum, asking the Buchanan County Circuit Court to order the museum to provide documents related to its nonprofit, public benefit function. The lawsuit also seeks a declaration that the museum is a quasi-public governmental body and therefore subject to the Missouri Sunshine Law.
The museum is supported substantially by a local 5-cent museum property tax levy, and the St. Joseph City Council appoints three members of the museum corporate board.
Nixon said his office is looking into allegations as to whether the museum is in complete compliance with the Missouri Nonprofit Corporation Act, including whether the directors have breached their fiduciary duty by misapplying and misappropriating corporate funds and engaging in transactions in which the directors had a conflict of interest.
Last month, the Attorney General's Office requested several public documents from the museum's executive director — including documents that nonprofits are required by IRS to make public — but the request was refused in a letter from the museum's attorney.
"The response my office received for documents the museum is required to provide is unacceptable under the law," Nixon said. "In order to fulfill my role as steward of Missouri's nonprofit assets under state law, my office will review the documents in order to determine how money is being spent by the museum."
The lawsuit states that on or about March 9, the museum board of directors held a special board meeting closed to the public at which the board changed its name, changed its bylaws and accepted new board members. In addition to a ruling that the museum is subject to the Sunshine Law, Nixon's lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring the museum to immediately comply with the Sunshine Law in the future.
Nixon is seeking copies of contracts, minutes, financial statements and loan agreements as part of his investigation into the use of museum assets by the board of directors.