Attorney General's News Release
March 11, 2013
For Sunshine Week, Attorney General Koster releases top five Sunshine Law questions in 2012
Jefferson City, Missouri -- Attorney General Koster today recognized Sunshine Week, March 10-16, 2013, by releasing the top five questions/complaints his office received last year about the Sunshine Law in Missouri.
“My office received more than 1,300 Sunshine Law-related questions and complaints in 2012,” Koster said. “Citizens of the Show-Me State expect and deserve their government to be open and transparent as required by law. The Attorney General’s Office will continue to provide guidance to both citizens and public officials on the rights and responsibilities the Sunshine law provides.”
Below are the top five questions and concerns the Attorney General’s Office fielded about the Sunshine Law in 2012, as well as what the law requires:
- How much can a public governmental body charge for records requests? Section 610.026.1(1), RSMo, allows a public governmental body to charge up to 10 cents per page for paper copies, the average hourly rate of pay for clerical staff to duplicate documents, and the actual cost of the research time for fulfilling the request. This provision also requires that the public governmental body use the lowest salaried employees capable of searching, researching and copying the records.
- Our board goes into closed session and we don’t know what they are going to talk about. Don’t they have to let us know why they are closing the meeting? Section 610.022, RSMo, requires that public governmental bodies give at least 24 hours notice of each closed meeting and the reason for holding it by reference to the specific exception allowed under Section 610.021, RSMo. Section 610.022, RSMo, also states that no public governmental body can move from an open meeting into a closed meeting without a roll-call vote, and that the vote and specific section of 610.021 shall be publicly announced and entered into the minutes.
- I was told my request would be ready in 2 weeks. Doesn’t the Sunshine Law say they have to give me the records in 3 days? Section 610.023.3, RSMo, requires that each request be responded to as soon as possible, but no later than the end of the third business day following the custodian of records’ receipt of the request. If access is not granted immediately, the custodian of records is required to explain the reason for the delay and the earliest date and time that the records will be available. Therefore, public governmental bodies are allowed to exceed the three days for production, but they are required to notify you of the delay and explain when they anticipate the records will be ready.
- Can we add items to the agenda after it has been posted? Section 610.020.1, RMSo, requires public governmental bodies to post a notice and tentative agenda for each meeting, and that the agenda be constructed in a manner reasonably calculated to advise the public of the matters to be considered. Further, Section 610.020.2, RSMo, requires that this notice be posted at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting. Therefore, any items to which members of the public did not receive at least 24 hours’ notice should not be discussed during the meeting. However, 610.020, RSMo, includes an exception that states if for good cause 24 hours notice is impossible or impractical, the public governmental body shall give as much notice as possible and the nature of the good cause justifying the departure from normal requirements shall be stated in the minutes.
- Members of the board get together and talk about business outside of meetings. Is that a violation? Under the Sunshine Law, a meeting takes place when a majority or quorum of a public governmental body gathers to discuss or vote on public business (§ 610.010(5), RSMo and Colombo v. Buford, 935 S.W.2d 690 (Mo. App. W.D. 1996)). Therefore, if less than a quorum of the body meets to discuss public business, it is not a “meeting” as defined under the Sunshine Law. However, the Sunshine Law will apply to meetings of groups with less than a quorum when the entity is deliberately attempting to evade the Sunshine Law. See, Colombo, cited above. For example, a public governmental body may not purposely meet in groups with less than a quorum to discuss public business and then ratify those decisions in a subsequent public meeting.
The Attorney General’s Office provides training and educational seminars about the Sunshine Law to public officials, communities, and citizen groups. Missourians can request a presentation by the Attorney General’s Office at https://www.ago.mo.gov/forms/speakerRequest.php. Missourians can file Sunshine Law complaints at https://www.ago.mo.gov/cgi-bin/forms/sunshineComplaint.cgi.
The Attorney General’s Office also publishes a Missouri Sunshine Law booklet, which is available on the Attorney General’s website at: http://ago.mo.gov/pdf/MissouriSunshineLaw.pdf, or in print, available for order at https://www.ago.mo.gov/cgi-bin/consumer/orderPublications.cgi.