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UM denies newspaper request for records regarding Big Ten talks

Friday, May 14, 2010 | 6:57 p.m. CDT; updated 1:19 a.m. CDT, Saturday, May 15, 2010

COLUMBIA — The University of Missouri system declined to provide records of correspondence by Athletics Director Mike Alden involving any mention of the Big Ten Conference, citing a provision of the Sunshine Law that protects records regarding contract negotiations or sealed bids and proposals.

The Missourian on Tuesday issued a request under the Missouri Open Records and Meetings Law asking for copies of any written or electronic correspondence of Alden’s that included any mention of the Big Ten since Dec. 1. It also asked for records of any correspondence between Alden and Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany since Nov. 1.

Read the letters

May 11, 2010

Mr. David Russell, Chief of Staff

University of Missouri System

Office of the President

321 University Hall

Columbia, MO 65211

 

Mr. David Russell,

I am writing to request under Chapter 610 of the Missouri Revised Statutes any correspondence - including both electronic and on paper - involving University of Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden and including the words "Big Ten" in any variation of spelling or case, since December 1, 2009.

Also, I request all correspondence, including both electronic and on paper, between Mike Alden and Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany since November 1, 2009.

I would like the records to be provided electronically, preferably by email.

If some of the records are available before others, please provide them as they become available. If any information is to be redacted, please provide the remainder of the document and detailed reasons for any redactions.

Because this information is to be used by the Columbia Missourian in the public's interest and not for commercial gain, I request that any fees associated with the request be waived. If such a waiver cannot be permitted, please alert me if the costs associated with the request exceed $200.

Please provide the records within three days as provided by law. If any part of the request is denied, please segregate the closed records and provide the rest. For any records denied, please cite the exact exemptions to the Sunshine Laws.

If there are any questions about the request please contact me at (303) 905-3093 or at PatMSweet@gmail.com.

Thanks,

Patrick Sweet

 

May 14, 2010

Mr. Sweet:

I am in receipt of your May 11, 2010, request for records under the provisions of the Missouri Sunshine Law (copy attached for reference). Specifically you requested copies of:

1.    “any correspondence - including both electronic and on paper - involving University of Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden and including the words "Big Ten" in any variation of spelling or case, since December 1, 2009”


2.    “all correspondence, including both electronic and on paper, between Mike Alden and Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany since November 1, 2009”

Your request appears directed, in whole or in part, towards documents that you believe may exist regarding a potential membership agreement with the Big Ten Conference, a subject of much recent speculation and publicity.  Without confirming or denying that such documents exist, please be advised that any such documents, if they exist, clearly would be exempt from disclosure under the Sunshine Act, Section 610.021(12), RSMo 2000, and might also be exempt under Section 610.021(1), RSMo 2000.

If you would like us to search for other, non-exempt documents that might be responsive to your request, please let me know and we will provide you with an estimate of the costs associated with document search and duplication.

Regards,

David R. Russell, Ph.D.
Custodian of Records



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But David Russell, senior associate vice president and chief of staff for the UM system, said in an e-mail response to the Missourian that any such records, if they exist, “clearly would be exempt from disclosure.”

Russell, who is custodian of records for the university system, also said the records might be closed under a provision that says governmental bodies can close records pertaining to legal actions or litigation.

Sandra Davidson, an MU journalism professor, adjunct professor in the School of Law and the Missourian’s attorney, said Russell’s response is “correct, as long as you have contract negotiations going on. It’s in the public interest that all these negotiations not be made public, of course, because it could have an adverse effect.”

Russell's response shed no light on whether documents pertaining to negotiations exist.

“Your request appears directed, in whole or in part, towards documents that you believe may exist regarding a potential membership agreement with the Big Ten Conference, a subject of much recent speculation and publicity,” Russell wrote to Missourian reporter Pat Sweet, who submitted the initial request. “Without confirming or denying that such documents exist, please be advised that any such documents, if they exist, clearly would be exempt from disclosure …”

Russell cited Section 610.0121(12) of the Sunshine Law. Section 610.021 generally outlines when public governmental bodies can close meetings or records. The exact text of Section 12 exempts:

“Sealed bids and related documents, until the bids are opened; and sealed proposals and related documents or any documents related to a negotiated contract until a contract is executed, or all proposals are rejected.”

Davidson called Russell’s response “very carefully worded.”

“It does a pretty good job of keeping his cards close to his vest. … It may be his way of saying that he is not going to do a search for something that might exist, but if it existed you couldn’t get it anyway.”

Davidson said it appears from Russell’s response that there is presumption by UM that the Missourian assumes contract negotiations with the Big Ten Conference are under way and that it seeks records proving that. The Missourian, however, sought any correspondence by or with Alden regarding the Big Ten, no matter how casual. And it sought the same regarding correspondence between Alden and Delany.

Davidson said the Sunshine Law carries “a presumption of openness, and that means the burden is on the person trying to close the records” to prove by citing the law why they should be closed.

Russell left open the possibility that some documents might be released.

"If you would like us to search for other, non-exempt documents that might be responsive to your request, please let me know and we will provide you with an estimate of the costs associated with document search and duplication," he wrote.

By filing the request, the Missourian sought to shed light on the status — or existence — of any talks involving a possible move by MU to the Big Ten. Conversation about that possibility began in December when the Big Ten announced that it would begin looking at expansion.

Adding one team would allow the Big Ten to begin conducting a lucrative conference championship game. But reports indicate that the league could add as many as five teams, bringing its total number to 16.

Another factor is the lucrative Big Ten television network, which distributes between $18 million and $22 million annually to each of the conference’s teams.

By comparison, Missouri received just less than $8.4 million from the Big 12 in 2007, the last year for which tax documents are available.

The Big Ten last expanded in 1990 when Penn State University joined the league, giving it 11 members.

Further discussions of conference expansion could take place next week when Big Ten athletics directors meet in Chicago beginning Monday. Basketball and football coaches will join the meeting later in the week. A presidents and chancellors meeting is scheduled for next month.

The Big 12 holds its spring meetings the first week in June in Kansas City.


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Comments

Ellis Smith May 15, 2010 | 6:30 a.m.

"We definitely know a lot about what we don't know."

(Report Comment)
C.T. Hy May 22, 2010 | 9:48 a.m.
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