Earlier this month, the State Auditor’s Office released the final report of its audit of the Joplin School District.
One key finding: The district did not “make public” the results of votes taken in closed meetings in any effective manner.
District officials said they make information public when it’s requested, and argued they have no obligation to go beyond that.
“We don’t necessarily disagree that we can do better,” Superintendent C.J. Huff told the Joplin Globe after the audit came out. “We just feel like we’re meeting the minimum requirements of the Sunshine Law.”
But the Auditor’s Office disagreed:
“ ‘Make public’ requires more than waiting for a request to be made,” the report concluded. “Furthermore, because the general public would not have sufficient information to know what occurred in closed session to make such a request, disclosure only upon request defies the intent of the statute.”
There’s no clear case law to mandate this position, but it’s a position that does have some support in some of the language in the Sunshine Law. For example, the exception that allows closure of meetings, records and votes relating to litigation speaks of votes regarding eminent domain to be “announced or become public immediately following the action on the motion …”
Another parallel can be found in the language that says “reasonable notice” of meetings “shall include making available copies of the notice to any representative of the news media who requests notice….” In one case, a public body was simply calling the news media and telling them that a copy of this notice was sitting on the counter waiting for them to pick up.
The public body questioned the Missouri Attorney General whether that was enough. No, the attorney general responded in a formal opinion; you have a fax machine – fax it to the media.
Several times in past years, state legislators have proposed including language in the law requiring public bodies to actually announce at the next open meeting any new closed records that are now no longer closed. That language has never been adopted.