Sunshine Law presentation proves to be enlightening

By Mike Anthony

Superintendent Jim Simpson presented a brief refresher of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, better known as the Sunshine Law, during a recent Lindbergh Board of Education work session.

Culled from a Missouri School Boards’ Association primer, “How School Districts Accidentally Violate the Sunshine Law,” Simpson’s presentation was enlightening.

As we’ve said before, Lindbergh administrators and board members already have an outstanding grasp of the Sunshine Law, as do current Mehlville School District and Mehlville Fire Protection District officials — just to mention a few of the entities the Call covers.

Simpson’s message about adhering to the Sunshine Law during the work session could be characterized as preaching to the choir. However, the Call routinely deals with elected and appointed officials whose compliance with the Sunshine Law is questionable at best and downright deceptive at worst.

One of the most important points Simpson raised is any discussion of public business with a quorum is a meeting, even if no votes are taken.

That includes:

• The meeting after the meeting at a local restaurant.

• Electronic communications or via telephone.

• Telephone polls in lieu of a meeting.

Exceptions to the Sunshine Law include ministerial or social purposes where there is no intent to violate the law, according to Simpson.

The superintendent also noted that just because board members are uncomfortable discussing an issue during a public meeting does not make it a closed-session item.

That includes:

• Filling a vacancy on the board.

• Awarding a bid to a contractor.

• Deciding to eliminate a position.

• Setting the salary schedule.

Regarding closed sessions, Simpson emphasized the importance of adhering to the topic for which the closed session was called. If a board drifts from discussing a valid-closed session topic into an open-session item, it’s the responsibility of every person in that closed session to speak up and ask that the issue be placed on the agenda for the next public meeting.

Elected and appointed officials have a responsibility to educate themselves about the Sunshine Law. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and we will not hesitate to call out entities and officials who demonstrate questionable compliance with the law.