Forecast remains cloudy for state’s Sunshine Law

“Call the Tune” by Mike Anthony

By Mike Anthony

The more things change, the more they stay the same, the adage goes.

A report released last week by State Auditor Tom Schweich found that state and local governing bodies routinely violate the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, also called the Sunshine Law.

That’s not really a surprise given the fact that a report Schweich released in March 2012 arrived at the same conclusion. In short, nothing much has changed since then.

Schweich’s latest report was compiled by using the nearly 300 audit reports issued by his office from January 2012 to December 2013.

Not surprisingly, many of the issues cited in Schweich’s report involve closed sessions.

Ironically, nothing in the Sunshine Law requires a governmental body to meet in closed session. The Sunshine Law states that its provisions “shall be liberally construed,” while the exceptions that permit governmental bodies to meet in closed session shall be “strictly construed.”

We certainly recognize the need for some matters to be discussed out of view of the public — legal, real-estate and personnel issues, for example. But the report noted that several entities failed to document the reasons for closing meetings, the specific section of the law that allowed for meetings to be closed and votes to enter into closed session.

Other violations cited in the report included not preparing or maintaining closed-session minutes or drafting minutes with sufficient detail.

Perhaps the most egregious violations the report noted were that some entities discussed issues in a closed session that were not permitted under the law and issues other than the specific reasons cited for going into a closed session.

We’re pleased to say that most of the governing bodies we cover in south county go above and beyond in adhering to the Sunshine Law and embracing transparency, realizing that an informed citizenry is essential for democracy to work.

Unfortunately, not all of our local custodians of records have a good grasp of the Sunshine Law. Believe it or not, some like to play games with us. Even worse, some act like they’re doing us a favor by actually doing their job and complying with the law’s provisions.

We’re certainly not asking for any favors. But be warned, if you don’t want to do your job and comply with the Sunshine Law, we won’t hesitate to call you out in this column.