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Government, Politics & Issues

No Sunshine: Too many Missouri local governments ignore requests for information

Marshall Griffin|St. Louis Public Radio

State Auditor Nicole Galloway on Tuesday released details of a test her office recently conducted on how cities, counties, water districts, fire protection districts and other governing bodies respond to Sunshine Law requests.

She had employees send Sunshine requests to more than 300 local governments. The letters were "in plain form" (not office letterhead) and prepared in a way citizens might request public information. None of the letter writers identified themselves as employees of the state auditor's office.

The letters requested the following: a copy of minutes from a recent board meeting, a public notice and agenda from the meeting, the name and contact information of the local records custodian, and information on policies for recording public meetings.

"Overall, the results were extremely disappointing, and they demonstrate that we have a long way to go in improving government transparency," Galloway told reporters.

She said 30 percent of local governments that received the requests fully complied.

"Thirty-seven percent of local governments failed to acknowledge the request or to respond within the three-day time period required under the law. Some of those eventually did provide information even though it was passed the deadline, but (nearly) 16 percent did not respond at all."

The Sunshine Law is a law requiring certain proceedings of government agencies to be open or available to the public.

Four governing bodies said "no" to the requests for various reasons, including wanting to know the purpose for the request and agreeing to only provide the documents in person:

screenshot showing rejections

screenshot showing rejections
Credit Screenshots

Forty-three governing bodies requested payments before responding to the Sunshine requests. Such entities are allowed to charge up to 10 cents a page for standard paper copies; also, "the average hourly rate of pay for clerical staff to duplicate documents, and the actual cost of the research time for fulfilling the request."

Galloway said, though, that some entities charged exorbitant fees. She noted the Mid-Continent Public Library District, based in Independence, which wanted $80 to provide the requested documents.

Failure to comply with Sunshine Law requests can result in fines, lawsuits and "a loss of credibility."

"We purposely created the requests to be simple, to be inexpensive and to facilitate a timely response," Galloway said.

The full report can be found here.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

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