An order from the Missouri attorney general’s office requiring Neosho City Council members and city staff to attend a training session after violating Missouri’s Sunshine Law is based on a faulty assumption.
It assumes this violation stemmed from ignorance.
It stems from indifference.
• Indifference by public officials, as in, “Oh, the state law governing open meetings and open records doesn’t even rise to the level of jaywalking.”
• Indifference by those charged with up holding the law, as in, “Just attend a training session, and we’ll forget all about it.”
The AG’s feeble response only reaffirms what councils and school boards and boards of governors and legislators too often believe, which is: We don’t have to take Missouri’s Sunshine Law seriously.
Between Sept. 4, 2018, and Sept. 11, 2018, a quorum of Neosho City Council members held meetings via email and text messages in which city business was discussed, including cutting cellphone allowances in the city budget, a proposed employee agreement for an incoming city manager and salary changes for a city employee. It was halted when City Attorney Steven Hays told the group that their messages included a quorum of council members and constituted a meeting.
The law is not complicated, difficult to find or hard to follow.
Public servants need look no further than the AG’s website to get a review of the law: https://www.ago.mo.gov/missouri-law/sunshine-law.
Or try the state auditor’s website, https://www.auditor.mo.gov/content/auditor-galloway-finds-only-30-compliance-government-transparency-law. She periodically audits municipalities for compliance with our Sunshine Law. According to Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway, “government must do better when it comes to meeting its obligations to transparency with the public. A (2016) report 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.”
Or try this, mopress.com/sunshine-resource. It’s the website of the Missouri Press Association, and it also has numerous links so you can learn more about the Sunshine Law.
Last but certainly not least, www.mocities.com — website of the Missouri Municipal League — has information. That group also holds an annual training in June for newly elected city and school officials, and that training includes the Sunshine Law. The group even buys copies of Sunshine Law pamphlets by the box to distribute to city officials.
Neosho City Council members could have and should have known better, and the AG’s office — charged with upholding the law — instead undermined it.