Dear Reader,

Congratulations Stadium Corridor Transportation Development District.

Of the four Boone County public entities picked in the random sample by the state auditor’s office, yours is the only one to pass the Sunshine Law test.

Our Stadium district joins an elite group of public bodies that actually followed the law, according to the review by state auditor Nicole Gallaway. Just 30 percent of 309 political subdivisions, as the Sunshine Law review calls them, fully complied.

It shouldn’t have been hard to ace this quiz.

The state auditor’s office sent a letter on Aug. 2 asking for these things:

  • “The name and contact information for your custodian of records"
  • Meeting minutes from the last meeting of 2015
  • The notice and agenda for that meeting
  • Any policy on recording public meetings
  • Whether there will be any fee over $10
  • And, if any information isn’t public, a citation as to why it’s closed.

As requests go, this is Sunshine 101 stuff.

Amazing, then, that 16 percent of public bodies in this state sample didn’t respond at all. Imagine if the request was more complicated, like the letter Missourian reporter Katie Pohlman sent the UM System custodian of records, Paula Barrett.

It asked for reports from the Office for Civil Rights & Title IX and the MU Office of Student Conduct as well as all written or electronic correspondence between representatives of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity and several offices over 18 months.

The request involved some 95 documents. They all had to be reviewed and, in some instances, names had to be redacted for legal reasons. Yet Barrett responded within the three-day limit proscribed by law and supplied all the information in about two weeks.

Well done, UM System.

Pohlman had her article finished a few days later. Then MU announced it would not recognize the fraternity for five years because of repeated violations including alcohol abuse and hazing.

Those weren’t the newspaper’s documents that Pohlman received. They were the people’s documents. We are the public, and political bodies serve the public and are answerable to the public.

In the auditor's report, four governments denied the information "unless we responded with clarification of the purpose of the request, provided how the information was to be used, or appeared in person to obtain the documents."

The law doesn't say you have to give a government official a reason for the request. And yet it happens. In my experience, it's often quite innocent: an official isn't quite sure how to fill a request and so asks how to narrow things down a bit.

That sure is hard to imagine, though, in the request the auditor made. We aren't talking about nuclear plans here.

I liked the response of the Mineral Springs Special Road District 10 of Barry County: "I cannot in good consciousness provide you with the information you are seeking due to the lack of information provided about yourself. Sir, I do not know who you are, and I recollect not having had any previous communication with you."

There you go. Government by the "if I know ya, I'll help ya."


About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

Two other transportation development districts and one town in Boone County may need a little refresher on our statutes collectively known as the Sunshine Law.

Neither Northwoods nor Rock Bridge Center transportation districts replied in a timely manner or met all the other criteria. Harrisburg responded, but not with everything required, according to the 56-page report.

What, exactly, did Harrisburg say in its response? The auditor’s report doesn’t drill down that far.

But you could find out.

Just send a letter, and be sure to cite Chapter 610, RSMo.

That’s the Sunshine Law.

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