Thursday, March 01, 2007

Government Bodies Should Adopt Sunshine Law Policy

A strong Missouri Sunshine Law is essential to open and fair government. But based on my past experience, there are times when tax supported public bodies (and there are lots of them) get lazy in following the Missouri Sunshine Law.

Just like I need an occasional reminder on AP Style and coaching baseball, public governmental bodies probably need regular reminders about the Missouri Sunshine Law.

The Missouri Press Association is recommending that every tax funded (public) board go through and personalize -- and then approve – a model Sunshine Law Policy.

You can download a template of a very good six-paged policy here: It is self explanatory.

I’ve read the policy and I think it has merit for any public body. The policy could help groups avoid some common problems.

When it comes to the Missouri Sunshine Law, my suggestion is to “err on the side of openness” by always posting a notice and keeping meetings as open as legally possible.

Missouri’s legislators passed their first Sunshine Law in 1973 just a few years after the federal Freedom of Information Act was enacted.

The single most important thing for reporters and citizens to know is that the “right to know” is not a constitutional right, but a statutory one. So, only legislative support can save Freedom of Information laws like the Sunshine Laws.

It is also important to know that the Sunshine Law is not designed to benefit the news media. The law is designed to protect and inform the public. It opens doors so reporters -- and individuals -- can see government at work, and find out how taxpayer money is being spent. Knowing what your public servants are doing and how they are spending your money is critical to having a strong democratic society.

Sunshine Week is coming up in Missouri (March 11-17). Learn more at


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