Thursday, December 13, 2007

Five Things the Attorney General’s office Says Every Public Body Needs to Respond to the Sunshine Law

According to James Klahr, Assistant Attorney General for the state of Missouri, there are five things every public body needs to have in place to respond to the requirements of the Sunshine Law.

1. They need to have a written policy on how you comply with the Sunshine Law. Who is the custodian of records? How much do I charge for records? The benefit of a policy is that it is in writing and lets the public know how you are going to deal with this issue.

2. Each public body must have a custodian of records. This is the gatekeeper or quarterback. They need to know who might have records in order to respond to the request. However the request comes in you should try to respond to it. Oral requests are okay but can create problems when things are misunderstood. It is best to have requests in writing. The custodians must also protect the records.

3. Must have a record keeping system and know which records are open and which records are closed. Some records can be closed during litigation but they become open later when litigation is over, for example.

4. Every public body should have a noticing system. Every public body must post meeting notices 24-hours in advance. This is one area where the law could be improved. They are not legally bound to post notices on the Internet but they really should. “As a society we no longer venture down to the city hall in person to check a notice, we check for it online. Doing this would not be a problem with the Hancock Amendment because it does not add an extra expense,” said Klahr.

5. Questions about meeting minute retention and content is something Attorney General’s office get lots of calls about. People are surprised sometimes when they attend a 3-hour minute and then see minutes that are 2 pages long. “Missouri’s requirement for minutes is very basic. The statue says you have to show date, time and place of meeting, who attended and the record/count of votes. If you want to know what was discussed a public might need to be able to look back and see more than just votes but the law does not require it. This is part of the reason why citizens have the right to come into any public meeting and record it,” said Klahr.

Klahr provided this information during the “Practical Use of the Sunshine Law” panel discussion co-hosted by the Evangel University (EU) chapter of the Society for Collegiate Journalists, the EU Christian Pre-law Society, the Southwest Missouri PRO Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists and University of Missouri Extension on Thursday, Jan. 15.


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