Missouri State Auditor Issues Report Regarding Frequent Sunshine Law Violations

October 2016

An October 2016 advisory report issued by the Missouri State Auditor ("Auditor") identified common Sunshine Law violations in Missouri government. The findings were compiled based on audits issued over a one-year period. The most frequent oversights by governmental bodies included not preparing meeting minutes, a lack of documentation of the reason for closing a meeting to the public, and closing a meeting for reasons not allowed under the law. This alert summarizes the Auditor's report and how clients can ensure compliance with the Sunshine Law.

Minutes of Open Meetings

The Sunshine Law, ch. 610 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, requires that whenever a public governmental body holds an open meeting, that entity must take and retain meeting minutes. Minutes should be detailed and include the date, time, place, members present, members absent, and a record of votes taken. (Mo.Rev.Stat. §610.020(7)). All meeting minutes should be reviewed and approved in a timely manner. The Auditor's report found that many decisions made during open meetings were not properly documented.

Closed Meetings and Minutes of Closed Meetings

The Sunshine Law permits, but in most cases does not require, governmental bodies to close meetings for discussion of topics such as litigation matters, the purchase or sale of real estate where disclosure could affect the transaction, employment discussions, and sealed bids. (Mo.Rev.Stat. §610.021). Before any meeting, or portion thereof, may be closed, both the question of holding the closed meeting and the reason for the closed meeting shall be voted on, and the vote must be by roll call and identified in the publicly-available minutes. (Mo.Rev.Stat §610.015). The Auditor's report revealed that votes to close a portion of a meeting often were not adequately documented within the minutes.

Further, the topics discussed in such closed meetings must be limited to those where closure is authorized. (Mo.Rev.Stat. §610.022). The Auditor's report showed that closed sessions often included topics that were not permitted under state law.

Government bodies are required to take and retain minutes of closed meetings, and if any vote is taken, must identify how each member voted. (Mo.Rev.Stat. §610.020(6)). The Auditor's report found instances where closed-meeting minutes did not include sufficient detail of the discussions held, decisions made, or votes taken.

Public Records

The Sunshine Law requires governmental bodies to maintain adequate policies and procedures for public access to records and to publicly disclose a records custodian to whom requests for public records can be made. (Mo.Rev.Stat. §610.023.1). Such policies should include establishing and maintaining a recorded log of public requests. Governmental bodies are encouraged to have written protocols for providing copies of records to the public.

The law further requires that each request for access to public records be acted upon as soon as possible, but no later than the end of the third business day following the date that the request was received. (Mo.Rev.Stat. §610.023.3). The report found that some governmental bodies failed to timely respond to public requests.

Meeting Agendas

Public entities must give notice of the time, date, and place of each meeting; whether intended to be open or closed; and a tentative agenda. (Mo.Rev.Stat. §610.020). Such notice must be given at least 24 hours in advance. The audit report found inadequate compliance by entities for not preparing a tentative agenda or not disclosing sufficient information on the upcoming meeting.

How Clients Can Ensure that They Are Compliant

Clients are encouraged to frequently review Sunshine Law requirements to ensure compliance. Please contact your Lewis Rice team if you have questions or wish to further discuss these matters.

Click here for a copy of the audit report.

Firm Highlights
Client Alert

First-Issued Interim Final Rule Gives Guidance on No Surprises Act

More
Client Alert

Supreme Court Limits Ability to Compel Access to Private Property Without Compensation

More
News

Lewis Rice Welcomes 2021 Summer Associates

More
Client Alert

FTC Adds Teeth to the ‘Made in USA’ Rule

More
News

Claims Filed for Compensation in North Carolina Ecusta Trail Rail-to-Trail Case

More
News

Jeremy P. Brummond Presents at Webinar for Experienced Construction Attorneys

More
Client Alert

Supreme Court Hands Down Unanimous Decision Limiting FTC’s Ability to Seek Monetary Relief

More
Client Alert

Colorado Joins the Bandwagon, Enacts Comprehensive Privacy Law

More
Diversity & Inclusion

Law Firm ILN-telligence Podcast Hosts Ronald A. Norwood to Discuss Mentorship, Diversity & Inclusion in the Legal Industry, and the Importance of Equity for All

More
Client Alert

DOL Publishes Cybersecurity Guidance for Benefits Plans

More
Client Alert

The Changing Workplace Following the Latest CDC Mask Guidance

More
Client Alert

The New Standard Contractual Clauses: Scope, Impact, and Next Steps

More
Client Alert

CROWN Act Legislation on the Verge of Passage in St. Louis City & County

More
Client Alert

Missouri Supreme Court Holds that Public Governmental Bodies May Not Charge for Attorney Review Time

More
Client Alert

EEOC Issues Updated Guidance on COVID Vaccination Policies

More
Client Alert

Missouri Supreme Court Reverses Overtime Wages Judgment Resulting from Employer-Mandated Screenings Under the Portal-to-Portal Act

More
News

A Lawyer’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast Named Among Best Copyright Law Podcasts for 2021 by Welp Magazine

More
News

Michael D. Mulligan, Mysun Charitable Foundation Recognized at Greensfelder Park Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

More
Diversity & Inclusion

Lewis Rice Launches “Next Level” Diversity and Inclusion Programs

More
News

Jeannine Moentmann Becomes President of St. Louis Paralegal Association for 2021-2022

More