As the curtain is about to fall on another year, and we are about to enter 2013, it seems almost hopeless to look forward to openness in government at every level, from the rooms of small taxing districts to the chambers of the Missouri Capitol. Violations continue and there is little or no enforcement of sunshine laws, and when there is a conviction the penalties don’t even amount to a slap on the wrist.
It would be unfair to spread a blanket indictment over all public, tax-supported bodies, and on all their members and their attorneys. We have a few bodies with members who abide by the law.
But it is evident in viewing some public bodies that matters have been discussed outside the open meetings. The vote is decided by members meeting in secret, or through telephone calls, and they just go through the motions in an open meeting. It is clear that the votes have been lined up prior to the open meeting.
We submit that the most violated law on the books in Missouri is the Sunshine Law. Too many attorneys do not know much about the Sunshine Law, or if they do, rarely do they advise the public bodies they represent that an item must be discussed and action taken in an open meeting. Personnel, real estate and legal matters may be discussed in a closed meeting.
When Gov. Jay Nixon was attorney general, he and his staff held meetings across the state with newly elected officials to advise them of the Sunshine Law. Attorneys and all public officials also were invited to attend those meetings. That practice should be continued.
It is so obvious that when some votes are taken, that the issue actually was decided prior to the open meeting. When that happens, it’s not in the public interest. It’s not good government.