The Missouri Sunshine Law, or open meetings law, should be of the utmost importance not only to elected officials and journalists but to the general public as well.
The Missouri Sunshine Law, or open meetings law, should be of the utmost importance not only to elected officials and journalists but to the general public as well. The law, enacted in 1973, governs the public's access to meetings and records of state and local governments. Every city council, fire and ambulance district, school board and other taxing entity in the state is required to follow the provisions of the law.
Governmental entities should never seek to skirt the provisions of the Missouri Sunshine Law. The rules offer exceptions to discussing certain topics in open session, or to avoid releasing certain information to the media and general public. A board or commission should have the option of discussion all items in public. However, if releasing information to the media or discussing topics in public might ultimately violate an individual's rights, an exception should be allowed. The fundamental question that public officials should always consider is: What are we trying to hide from the public.
The Missouri Sunshine Law not only guards freedom of speech through the press but also helps preserve the lines of communication between the government and the governed. One of the most important aspects of an effective democratic government is communication.
Just recently, a complaint was filed with the Missouri Attorney General's office alleging the Camden County Commission had violated the Sunshine Law. It may very well not be a violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law but a lack of communication between the commissioners that may give the perception that the law may have been violated. In recent weeks it has become increasingly clear the commissioners don't spend much time communicating among themselves.
On Thursday, with reporters waiting for the commission to meet to discuss the hiring of a planning and zoning director, the commission abruptly adjourned the public portion of the meeting and voted to go into closed session. While it may very well have been appropriate to meet behind closed doors, when commissioners were questioned, it seemed that no one knew what the other was doing so a decision on how to conduct the meeting couldn't be made until after it was already underway.
We recommend that the commissioners put their differences aside and learn to work together. Maybe then it would be easier for the public to figure out what is going on.