Where is the outcry for better compliance? From the auditor, kind of, and from the Lake Sun. Who else?
After reading the Lake Sun Editorial on the Missouri Sunshine Law concerning compliance in our area, I did some research.
Sunshine laws are a wonderful thing, if utilized by proper requests and proper compliance.
Yet in today’s government environment, just here in Missouri, a state auditor clandestine survey uncovered some interesting facts and was published in November 2016. The actual survey can be viewed at: https://app.auditor.mo.gov/Repository/Press/2016124736280.pdf?_ga=1.203785304.934587082.1490019262
A Report released by Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway, late in 2016, on compliance with the state's open records laws shows that only 30 percent of local governments fully complied with laws specifically designed to keep government accessible to its citizens.
The audit was done by requesting public records to hundreds of local governments across the state. To cut to the chase, only 30 percent complied properly. The target area was over 300 local government entities in every region of the state.
The request was not complex but simple; provide a copy of minutes for the last meeting held, along with the notice and agenda for that meeting.
Four local governments refused to respond unless the requestor provided additional information or explained what the information would be used for, which is a violation of the Sunshine Law.
This audit really suggests several basic problems: (and only based on the simple request made by the auditor). An I have included some other observations mixed in that add to the overall message.
1) Local Governments do not understand compliance
2) Some Local Government entities do not want to comply
3) The very people in government that have chosen to not share possibly sensitive information are also the same people not fulfilling the request. (Or have informed the Sunshine clerk, if there is such a thing, to not comply for suggested legal reasons!)
4) Some governments may be overburdened with requests! Why? What are the reasons?
5) There is obviously no big concern in Missouri for proper fulfillment of Sunshine requests. 60 percent of those surveyed are doing poorly, and there is no statewide outcry. And considering the survey actually was based on information requests conducted in 2015, released in November 2016 and we are now into May of 2017, if another survey were conducted today, what would be the results?
6) And for those requesting data from their state or county, city, or any government agency, if the request is not fulfilled the only redress appears to be to sue the entity to force compliance.
7) A high cost to get Sunshine Law compliance!
8) And I venture the Missouri Legislature constructed our state Sunshine law to have no compliance teeth in it! 60 percent are struggling to comply on simple stuff with no penalties for non-compliance!
9) Florida, from the standpoint of Citizens has the best Sunshine Law compliance of all states.
10) The Missouri data audit in general does not paint a very good picture across the state!
11) Yet here in Missouri, Where is the outcry for better compliance? From the auditor, kind of, and from the Lake Sun.
Editor’s Note: This letter is in response to “Our View: Following the spirit - not just the letter - of the Sunshine Law” by Lake Sun staff published on the Opinion Page in the April 28-29 Lake Sun.