When it comes to the workings of the government, the more transparency the better. Missouri’s Sunshine Law is intended to help citizens keep their government accountable and see how tax dollars are being used. In reality, the law is not working.
In November, Missouri’s State Auditor’s office ran a test. It randomly delivered 309 letters to political subdivisions in its database. Each of these public entities (cities, school districts, special taxing districts, etc.) was sent a very simple, anonymous sunshine request, and the responses were then monitored. The results were dismal. More than two-thirds of public entities failed to fully comply, and roughly one in six failed to respond at all.
A few political subdivisions even refused to provide information unless they were told who was requesting it, even though nothing in the Sunshine Law requires that proof of identity accompany a request for information.
The point of the exercise was to learn what the average citizen deals with when checking on a public body, and the results show that the process is often overly burdensome. Some responses asked for payments as high as $80 for easily attainable documents like minutes from 2015 meetings. Show-Me Institute analysts have submitted our fair share of sunshine requests and have at times been met with outrageous demands.
It’s possible that some of these failures come from a lack of understanding of the law. If this is the case, then public servants need to be brought up to speed on their duty to the public. When government entities aren’t open to public scrutiny, there is reason for concern. There’s nothing unreasonable about demanding that public information be public.