Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Know your Sunshine Law says expert

Missouri Press Association legal consultant and media attorney Jean Maneke fields a minimum of 50 Sunshine Law related questions and concerns every month from newspapers throughout Missouri.

The questions range from incidents involving school boards who secretly gather inside a member's funeral home to discuss ousting the school superintendent to questions about whether city council members can attend a social function without posting a meeting.

“I get calls from both weekly and daily newspapers and although there are times that groups or individuals are purposefully trying to skirt around the openness law, most of my calls stem from people who simply do not understand the law,” said Maneke.

That is why Maneke encourages public and elected officials to “err on the side of openness” by always posting a notice.

Other organizations, like quasi-public bodies and entities that enter contract agreements with public entities, are also subject to the Sunshine law.

“It is important to note that Missouri’s Attorney General has issued an opinion that efforts to circumvent the Sunshine Law can be construed as a violation,” said Maneke.

Documents generated by technology, like e-mails, are now getting a lot of attention when it comes to openness laws.

“Many entities are finding e-mails can easily become part of the public record,” said Maneke.

Another issue that drew lots of questions was Maneke’s observation that the law does not require public entities, boards or councils to have a public commentary section on a meeting agenda.

“If a topic is not on the agenda, officials should only listen during the public comments and steer clear of any dialogue or discussion on these public matters until it can be placed on the agenda and posted,” said Maneke.

She also noted that the Sunshine Law does not require closed sessions.

"Closing a meeting is a privilege, not a requirement," said Maneke.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is that the Sunshine Law does not have big enough teeth and most citizens feel too intimidated to file a complaint. I know I've been in that situation before and when you work somewhere full time and raise a family then there is not enough time to pursue Sunshine Law violations and that is shame.

8:26 PM, October 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most elected officials just think the Sunshine Law is a pain in their neck instead of seeing that abiding by it really invites citizen participation.

8:27 PM, October 19, 2006  

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