State’s Sunshine Law still one of weakest in country

Mike Anthony

Mike Anthony

“Call the Tune” by Mike Anthony
Executive Editor
news1@callnewspapers.com

The Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, also known as the Sunshine Law, marked its 56th anniversary earlier this year.
Despite the longevity of the law, designed to promote open government, there was very little to celebrate given that the Missouri Sunshine Law is one of the weakest in the nation.
Sunshine laws in other states, notably Florida and neighboring Illinois, provide for much more transparency in government than this state’s Sunshine Law. That’s compounded by the fact that Missouri politicians have a penchant for promoting secrecy in government, often withholding public information simply “because we can.”
Now, that’s transparency.
Some governmental entities have even imposed restrictions regarding the Sunshine Law that have no basis in law and likely would be declared void if challenged in court.
For example, one local government has adopted sanctions that could be imposed against elected officials for violating the confidentiality of a discussion at a closed meeting. Yet no such restriction exists in state law.
And as we’ve learned over the years, legal challenges to Sunshine Law violations are costly, and the odds are stacked against anyone filing suit to challenge violations of the law by a governmental entity, as that body has an unlimited pot of taxpayer dollars to fight a lawsuit.
The irony’s not lost on us that government entities can spend public tax dollars to defend questionable or unlawful decisions to withhold information from the public.
Over the Call’s nearly 30 years of existence, we’ve come to recognize those government entities that set the standard for transparency.
Lindbergh Schools, for example, has always demonstrated total compliance with the law.
We’ve had issues with the Mehlville School District over the years, but that’s no longer the case — the same as with the Mehlville Fire Protection District and the city of Green Park.
An up-and-comer in terms of transparency is Sunset Hills.
For many years, attempting to obtain public information from city officials was like pulling teeth. That changed when the late Bill Nolan was elected mayor in 2010, and continues today under Mayor Pat Fribis and City Administrator Eric Sterman.
Over the years, we’ve become wary of elected officials who trumpet the so-called transparency of the bodies they represent, as more often than not they are the most secretive.