Wednesday, September 19, 2007

News-Leader: E-mails are public record

The Blunt Administration's cavalier attitude about the destruction of e-mail records has led to editorials from the state's leading newspapers, including one in today's Springfield News-Leader:

The problem in Missouri as it relates to Sunshine Law is twofold. First, as is obvious by the governor's office response, even our elected officials at the highest level of state government either don't understand the law or specifically seek to avoid compliance. In light of the attorney general's opinion, we asked Blunt spokesman Chrismer if the governor has changed his mind regarding the public nature of e-mails. He responded: "Emails can be a public record if they meet the other criteria of a public record," which sounds like the governor might be changing his tune, but in light of previous admission of destruction of public documents, we wonder what that really means.

And that's the second part of the problem with the Sunshine Law. The standard for a violation — proving that somebody "knowingly" violated the law — is too often impossible to prove. The law also has very limited penalties, and prosecutors, including the attorney general's office, are frequently unwilling to bring cases because the expense is worth far more than the penalty will ever provide.

This is what must change if Missouri citizens are to have a reasonable belief that their business, the state's business, is being conducted in public: The Sunshine Law mus really needs is for both parties to work together to make the law we have stronger. t be improved. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been quick to refer to the Sunshine Law as their ally when trying to point out their opponent's flaws. What Missouri really needs is for both parties to work together to make the law we have stronger.

What needs to change is the attitude about open government. Too often we have public bodies and officials searching for ways to take potentially embarrassing items behind closed doors. During my years covering city council and school board meetings, I can recall dozens of times when closed meetings were held illegally simply because the subject matter had some tenuous connection to "personnel."

The News-Leader editorial is right on the money. It is time to hold public officials accountable for open meetings violations. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

From what I learned in my journalistic training, any record created by a public entity is a "public record"... right down to the mayor writing something on a sticky note.

The problem is knowing what the record is and where and how it was created. You can't ask for something that you don't know about.