A Missouri government agency violated state open records laws by heavily redacting information it had already been releasing to a worker's union, according to allegations in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
"Transparency is very important," said Patrick Ishmael, who serves as the director of government accountability for The Show-Me Institute, which filed the suit, at a news conference Wednesday. "It shouldn't matter who you are or where you live in the state, you should be able to access public documents like anyone else."
The Show-Me Institute describes itself as a free-market think tank focusing on economic public policy in Missouri. On June 6, it requested documents under Missouri's Sunshine Law containing information previously shared between the Office of Administration and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, a union commonly referred to as AFSCME.
The Show-Me Institute says, however, that 90% of the information it received came in the form of blacked-out copies of Excel spreadsheets.
"We cannot have the government being selective or discriminating about who gets access to public information," said David Roland at the press conference. Roland is the director of litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri and will be working alongside The Show-Me Institute during the lawsuit.
According to court documents, the Office of Administration entered into a contract with AFSCME to send the union information about potential union members once each quarter. There were 70 categories of information, including names, employment status, and addresses, of several thousand employees given. Roland does not believe the employees consented to the release of their information.
Roland says the issue is not with the Office of Administration releasing the information, but that it chose to release it to one private entity and not another.
"We are a country and a state that are supposed to be governed by the people," said Roland. "It's impossible for the people to do their job in self-governance if they don't know what the government is doing in their name and with their taxpayer dollars."
Sunshine Laws require government business to be publicly available unless otherwise stated by law in order to promote transparency. The Show-Me Institute requested information that it says is considered public information under Missouri's Sunshine Act, RSMo. 610.010 and should not have been redacted.
The Office of Administration would not comment on the lawsuit.