EDITORIAL: Some officials demonstrate ignorance of Sunshine Law

Call the Tune

By Mike Anthony

Elected and appointed officials typically aren’t shy about expressing their commitment to transparency and the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, also called the Sunshine Law.

Though they may pay lip service to the Sunshine Law, more often than not many demonstrate an alarming ignorance about open meetings and records in practice. Even worse, some of these elected and appointed officials actually try to hide behind the Sunshine Law and use it as a shield to conceal public information.

As stated on Attorney General Chris Koster’s website, “Missouri’s Sunshine Law is the embodiment of Missouri’s commitment to openness in government.”

The website also states, “When in doubt, a meeting or record of a public body should be opened to the public.”

The law itself notes, “It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law.”

The Sunshine Law further states that its provisions “shall be liberally construed,” while the exceptions that permit governmental bodies to meet in closed session shall be “strictly construed.”

That’s borne out by Koster’s website, which also states, “The Sunshine Law allows a public body to close meetings and records to the public in some limited circumstances, but it almost never requires a public body to do so.”

That said, we certainly don’t dispute the need for a governmental body to discuss specific items such as litigation, real estate and personnel in closed session. But, as we’ve noted on many, many occasions, we’d like to see the Sunshine Law strengthened by eliminating “closed votes” by members of a governmental body and requiring all votes to be taken in open session. Though the current law stipulates that any votes taken during a closed session must be roll-call votes, we believe the public should be able to observe firsthand how their elected officials cast crucial votes.

Unfortunately, some of our elected officials would prefer to keep the public in the dark as much as possible when closed-session votes or public records they would like to remain confidential are involved.

Despite their pontificating to the public about their respect for the Sunshine Law, some pompous elected officials clearly are hypocritical when they cast aspersions on those who seek open and transparent government.