Apparently, it is when attorney and former Jasper County Judge Jon Dermott decides it is not. The Joplin Globe just posted an article revealing that Missouri Southern State University officials are refusing to release e-mails requested by the Globe through a Freedom of Information request.
An attorney advising Missouri Southern State University has balked at two requests by the Globe for e-mails that experts on Missouri’s Sunshine Law say are “clearly” public records.
The Globe on Aug. 7 and again on Aug. 28 filed requests for e-mails sent on MSSU accounts after May 1 for 13 top-ranking officials. The list includes Bruce Speck, MSSU president; Terri Agee, senior vice president of business affairs who will step down at the end of the year; Jack Oakes, a former vice president; and Roger Chelf, faculty senate president.
I would expect and hope that we will see the Joplin Globe take legal action against the university officials to get them to follow the law. I would expect that the Globe is not surprised by the refusal. The newspaper and The Turner Report have written extensively over the past several months about the MSSU Board of Governors' refusal to follow the clear wording of Missouri's Sunshine Law.
When the board discussed appointing a search committee to find a replacement for Julio Leon as college president, it was done in secret, even though it did not involve the hiring, firing, promoting, or disciplining of any personnel.
In the Jan. 24, 2009, Turner Report, I wrote about another violation:
When Missouri Southern State University President Dr. Bruce Speck announced the elimination of the Child Development Center and the men's soccer program Thursday, the first question that came to my mind was a simple one.
How in the world could the Board of Governors make this decision without discussing it in an open session? After all, this is a far-reaching decision that adversely affects a number of lives. These people and their supporters deserved an opportunity to have their say in front of the board...and more importantly, they had a right to look the board members in the eyes as the cuts were made.
It is not hard to predict what university officials' response will be- The deliberations and decision could be made in secrecy because it involved the jobs of identifiable workers. Sorry, but that is not the way the Sunshine Law works. If you are talking about hiring and firing specific workers for cause, or if you are talking about making decisions to eliminate certain workers from a department during hard economic times, those are things that can be discussed behind closed doors.
That does not cover this situation.
Eliminating programs is something that must be discussed and voted on in open session. The decision by a board, which is headed by a lawyer who should know better (and probably does) is shameful.
Who knows how many other decisions have been made behind closed doors by a group of officials who do not seem to realize they are governed by law and not by their own ambition.