Missouri Sunshine Law: Open Meetings & Open Records
What must be open.
Missouri's public policy mandates openness of government. Section 610.011.1, RSMo Supp 2006.
A. Missouri's public policy requires that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise specified by law. Public governmental bodies and the courts must promote this public policy with liberal construction of the Sunshine Law and strict construction of its exceptions. (Section 610.011.2, RSMo Supp 2006; MacLachlan v. McNary, 684 S.W.2d 534 (Mo.App. 1984)).
All meetings, records, and votes of public governmental bodies are open unless otherwise allowed by law. Sections 610.010-610.028, RSMo 2000 and Supp. 2006.
A. "Public governmental bodies" are any legislative or administrative governmental entities created by the constitution or statutes of Missouri, by order or ordinance of any political subdivision or district, or by executive order. "Quasi-public governmental bodies" include Missouri corporations or associations (a) which perform a public function, and (b) whose primary purpose is entering into contracts with public governmental bodies or who engage primarily in activities carried out pursuant to an agreement with public governmental bodies. (Section 610.010(4), RSMo Supp. 2006; see also, Champ v. Poelker, 755 S.W.2d 383 (Mo.App. 1988); Tipton v. Barton, 747 S.W.2d 325 (Mo.App. 1988); Remington v. City of Boonville, 701 S.W.2d 804 (Mo.App. 1985); and MacLachlan, 684 S.W.2d at 537.)
B. "Public meetings" are any meetings of public governmental bodies at which public business is discussed or decided, or public policy is formulated. Specifically excluded from this definition are informal gatherings by members of public governmental bodies for social or ministerial purposes where there is no intent to violate the public policy of openness. (Section 610.010(5), RSMo Supp. 2006; see Kansas City Star Co. v. Shields, 771 S.W.2d 101 (Mo.App. W.D. 1989); MacLachlan, 684 S.W.2d at 539; Tribune Publishing Co. v. Curators of the University of Missouri, 661 S.W.2d 575 (Mo.App. 1983); and Missouri Attorney General Opinions 330 (1973); 10 (1975); 73 (1979)).
C. "Public records" are any records retained by or of any public governmental body, except certain student records. (Section 610.010(6), RSMo Supp. 2006; see Tipton, 747 S.W.2d at 330.)
D. "Public votes" are any votes cast at any public meeting of any public governmental body. (Section 610.010(7), RSMo Supp. 2006.)
Public governmental bodies must comply with specified procedures that ensure openness. Sections 610.015-610.035, RSMo 2000 and Supp. 2006.
A. Proper notice of meetings requires that the public governmental body provide the time, date, place, and a tentative agenda for the meeting. Absent good cause for impossibility or impracticality, this notice must be posted in a prominent place clearly designated for such notices and easily accessible to the public at least 24 hours prior to a meeting. Section 610.020 RSMo Supp. 2006.
B. Before a public governmental body may close a meeting, it must first comply with the notice requirements for open meetings. Closing a meeting also requires an affirmative public vote of a majority of a quorum of the public governmental body and a public statement of the reason and specific statutory section authorizing closure of the meeting. Section 610.022, RSMo Supp. 2006. See Tipton, 747 S.W.2d at 331.
C. Public governmental bodies also must make available their public records for inspection and copying by the public within three business days of the request for inspection and/or copying unless the custodian provides a detailed explanation of the reasonable cause for delay. Section 610.023, RSMo Supp. 2006. If a request for access is denied, the custodian must provide, upon request, a written statement of the grounds for such denial. Section 610.023.4, RSMo Supp. 2006. Fees for copying public records shall not exceed the actual cost of the search and duplication. Section 610.026, RSMo Supp. 2006.
D. Each public governmental body must provide a reasonable written policy complying with the Sunshine Law regarding the release of information on any meeting, record, or vote. Section 610.028.2, RSMo Supp. 2006.
E. Public governmental bodies keeping records in electronic format are encouraged to provide public records to the public in an electronic format. Section 610.029, RSMo Supp. 2006.
Public governmental bodies may close meetings, records and votes to the extent they relate to the subjects set out in section 610.021, RSMo Supp. 2006.
1. Litigation involving the public governmental body, and privileged or confidential communications between the public governmental body and its attorneys. This includes litigation where the public governmental body is a potential plaintiff or defendant. However, after final disposition of the matter voted upon, the body must make available to the public any votes relating to the litigation.
2. The lease, purchase, or sale of real estate by the public governmental body where public knowledge of the transaction might adversely affect the legal consideration of the transaction. After completion of the transaction, however, the body must make public any vote or public record approving such a contract.
3. Hiring, firing, disciplining or promoting an employee of the public governmental body. However, the body must make available to the public any vote on a final decision to hire, fire, discipline or promote within 72 hours of the close of the meeting where such action occurs.
4. State militia or National Guard or any parts of these entities.
5. Nonjudicial mental or physical health proceedings involving identifiable persons.
6. Scholastic records except to parents, guardians, or custodians of the student, or to the student if over the age of 18 years.
7. Testing or examination materials prior to administering of the exam.
8. Welfare cases of identifiable individuals.
9. Preparation on behalf of a public governmental body for negotiations with employee groups.
10. Software codes for electronic data processing and documentation.
11. Specifications for competitive bidding until the body officially approves or publishes the specifications for bid.
12. Sealed bids and related documents until the earlier of their opening, or the acceptance or rejection of all bids.
13. Individually identifiable personnel records, other than the names, positions, salaries and lengths of service of officers and employees of public agencies.
14. Records protected from disclosure by law.
15. Scientific and technological innovations in which the owner has a proprietary interest.
A violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law may result in the imposition of specified remedies. Section 610.027, RSMo Supp. 2006.
A. Any aggrieved person, taxpayer to, or citizen of the State of Missouri, or the attorney general, or prosecuting attorney may pursue remedies in the circuit court of the county of the public governmental body’s principal place of business. Sections 610.027.1 and .5, RSMo Supp. 2006.
B. A party may seek judicial enforcement of the law through an injunction against the violating body or members. Section 610.030, RSMo 2000. See Kansas City Star, 771 S.W.2d at 104; Tipton, 747 S.W.2d at 331; and MacLachlan, 684 S.W. 2d at 539.
C. The court also may impose a civil fine not to exceed $5,000 on any member of a public governmental body who purposely violates the Law. The court also may order the payment by such member of all costs and reasonable attorney’s fees to any party successfully establishing the violation. Section 610.027.4, RSMo Supp. 2006. See Kansas City Star, 771 S.W 2d at 104-05, and Tipton, 747 S.W.2d at 332.
D. A court may void any action taken by a public governmental body in violation of the Sunshine Law if the public interest in enforcement of the Law’s policy outweighs the public interest in sustaining the validity of the action taken in the closed meeting, record, or vote. Section 610.027.5, RSMo Supp. 2006.
There are separate statutory provisions regarding access to arrest records.
A. If a person is not charged with an offense within 30 days after his arrest, official records of the arrest and of any detention or confinement following the arrest are inaccessible to the general public and media. Section 610.100-610.126, RSMo 2000 and Supp. 2006.
B. If the person arrested is charged but the case is subsequently nolle prossed or dismissed, or the accused is found not guilty, or the imposition (as opposed to the execution) of the sentence is suspended, official records of the case become closed records when the case is finally terminated. Section 610.105, RSMo.