Local Government

Paul Martin, Esquire

City’s internal payroll data processing agency is not the custodian of records for the employee compensation information of other city agencies; “accrued leave” benefits are disclosable open records if the leave is “payable” to the employee. State ex rel., Daly v. ITSA, et al., No. 98789 (Mo. App. E.D., October 15, 2013), Sullivan, J.

The City of St. Louis by ordinance created the Information Technology Services Agency (“ITSA”). ITSA is a data processing agency that receives payroll information from various city departments, coordinates the assessment and verification of the data, and prepares and provides compensation information to the city treasurer for the payment of city employees. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch filed a Sunshine Law request on ITSA for the production of the 2009 and 2010 payroll records of all city employees. Litigation ensued and issues were defined. The trial court held (a) that the payroll records could be obtained through a Sunshine Law request to ITSA’s custodian of records and (b) that records consisting of an employee’s accrued sick time, vacation time, and compensatory time were not open records. The Eastern District reversed on both points.

On the question of whether the records could be obtained through ITSA, the Eastern District held that the Sunshine Law contemplated each public governmental body to appoint a records custodian to be responsible for that agency’s records. While ITSA was a public agency, the records sought did not belong to ITSA, but rather to other public agencies, and as the city’s data processor, ITSA had no control over the data and no obligation to retain the data. The newspaper’s records request should have been submitted to each distinct agency’s records custodian.

Editor’s Note (1):
The court distinguished ITSA from a public agency that received another agency’s original records and retained those records to the exclusion of the transmitting agency, in which case ITSA would have been directly responsible for the records. Not at issue in the case was whether a transmitting agency had the responsibility to retrieve information from ITSA, which presumably remains the law.

On the question of whether accrued leave constituted a public record, the court analyzed § 610.021(13), RSMo. to determine if the accrued leave constituted “salary”, an open record, or “individually identifiable personnel records”, which are closed. The court held that such records are open and subject to disclosure “when the accrued time is available to the employee in the form of a payment [or is] convertible into money coming from the ‘public coffers’”.

Editor’s Note (2):
The court’s test—whether the accrued time is “available” for payment or “convertible” to money—suggests that when such benefits are not payable until termination of the employment relationship, the information is a closed record even though the benefit has been earned and will be payable at some future time. If this is correct, then it would seem that the only “accrued benefit” information that is subject to disclosure is that actually paid out to an employee.