James Klahr spoke about Missouri’s Sunshine Law to 40 people during two different sessions in Springfield on Oct. 11. His willingness to answer questions, and the information handouts he provided, helped to take some of the mystery out of this state law.
To view the Powerpoint Presentation that he used for the program go HERE
You can also download the Missouri Attorney General’s Sunshine Law booklet HERE
Readers might also find the Sunshine Law Policy template available HERE
Here are a few highlights of what Klahr had to share:GENERAL COMMENTS
The Missouri Sunshine Law is designed to ensure public access to government decision making and access to the records dealing with those government decisions.
If a board or a commission has five committees working for them, all of the subcommittees are also subject to the Sunshine Law.
“Your board has to have a reasonable written Sunshine policy or you are already in violation.”
“Liberal construction of the law is to be the policy which means the presumption in the state law that the records are open to the public. If there is a gray area and you can’t decide if something is open or not, then you should err on the side of making it open.”CLOSED SESSIONS
“Closed sessions have to be on the agenda as well as the reasons why that closed session is being held. If the board is listing the same laundry list every meeting then they are getting lazy. It needs to be specific … not just an umbrella they can apply at the last minute in case they want to go into closed session.”
As of 2004, there has to be minutes taken in closed sessions. Those must show the votes taken by name. There are certain exceptions to the Sunshine Law that allow for closed sessions. Roll call vote must be known 72 hours later. Should also be note of the motion made.
“Boards are authorized to close portions of the meeting in narrow situations … but not required to do so. There can be good reasons to do so … but the law does not require it, it just authorizes it in certain situations.”E-MAIL RECORDS
If electronic records are retained they are public record, even if the document is retained for a short period. If it is available when the request is made then it must be shared.
In terms of e-mail, transitory e-mail (like setting up appointments) doesn’t have to be retained. But if the e-mail relates to policy or the business of the office, these need to be retained. The type of document does not matter. It is the content that makes these relevant. Courts have not addressed the issue of deleted e-mail and the electronic record.
“E-mails are public records because they are generated from tax supported equipment. The hard question is whether or not e-mail is related to public business.”VIOLATIONS
“The opportunities to violate the Sunshine Law have always existed and perhaps technology is providing more ways to do that. We have councils sometimes that will go into closed session for one reason but discuss other topics …”
“How things are handled is a big part of this. The appearance of how things are done can raise red-flags. Because of that, the assumption is that you should err on the side of openness. There has to be a trust factor and people need to be held accountable.”MINUTES OF MEETINGS
Official minutes of a meeting are not required to be a transcript.
Members of the public have a right to get draft minutes of a meeting even before they are voted on or approved but they should be marked as draft.
Requirements for minutes are very vague which is why it is so important for citizens to be able to record what is taking place at the meetings.