Bill seeks to require audio recordings of all closed meetings

Bivins’ bill would not make closed-meeting recordings public record


Legislation introduced by Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, would require public governmental bodies to make audio recordings of all closed sessions.

The Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, also called the Sunshine Law, currently requires public governmental bodies to keep minutes of all open and closed meetings, including a record of any votes taken.

Bivins’ House Bill 967 would amend the Sunshine Law to state: “All closed meetings shall have a verbatim audio re-cording of the meeting taken and retained by the public governmental body.”

The legislation, Bivins said, would en-sure that an accurate record would be kept of a closed meeting and ensure that elected and appointed officials adhere to the topic or topics for which the closed session was called.

Bivins’ proposal would require public governmental bodies to make “some type of audio recording so that if there is any question in the future as to what business was conducted in a closed meeting, that could be reviewed (to determine) if all the business was really closed-meeting eligible.”

He added, “… The only reason for doing this is, again, just to avoid any potential controversy that a board discussed things that weren’t appropriate for a closed meeting.”

A verbatim audio recording of a closed session would not be considered a public record open to public inspection, according to Bivins’ proposal.

In the case of a lawsuit alleging a violation of the Sunshine Law, “… if the judge believes such an examination is necessary, (the court) shall conduct an in-camera examination of the verbatim audio recording as it finds appropriate in order to determine whether there has been a violation …,” the legislation states.

In addition, Bivins’ legislation states, “The court may, for the purposes of a discovery request for the minutes of a closed meeting, authorize the public governmental body to redact from the minutes of the meeting closed to the public any information deemed to qualify under the attorney-client privilege.”

Bivins’ proposal is similar to Illinois’ Verbatim Record Law, which requires public governmental bodies to keep an audio or videotape record of closed meetings.

The legislation was adopted through the efforts of Illinois Press Association members.

Lead sponsors of the Illinois Verbatim Record Law, which became effective Jan. 1, 2004, were then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, D-Chicago, and state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.

Until the enactment of the Verbatim Record Law, Illinois law required only handwritten minutes be kept of closed meetings.

In Missouri, the Crestwood Board of Aldermen has been tape recording closed meetings involving litigation and real-estate matters since 2002.

The Board of Aldermen voted in March 2002 to amend the city’s Open Meetings and Records Policy to tape record closed meetings involving litigation and real-estate matters after debating the issue for months.

Not all of the city’s aldermen supported the measure and they deadlocked several times over the issue of tape recording closed sessions involving litigation and real-estate matters.

No board member ever supported tape recording closed sessions of the board involving personnel matters.

Crestwood aldermen who supported the tape recording of closed sessions contended it would lead to more accurate minutes of such sessions while providing the public more insight into how the board arrived at decisions made during closed meetings.

Aldermen who opposed to such taping had expressed concerns that the unauthorized release of information from such tapes could damage the city and that tapes of closed sessions could be discoverable as evidence in a lawsuit filed against the city.

Bivins’ legislation was introduced and read for the first time Feb. 22 in the Missouri House.

A second reading of the bill took place Feb. 26.

“I have requested that the bill be heard before the General Laws Committee … I haven’t been notified as of yet if I will get a hearing. I’m hopeful that that will happen, though,” Bivins said.