Having worked at several levels of government I know for a fact that when a local government knows that a meeting or a document is subject to public scrutiny they go out of their way to keep things ethical. However, every government has a few dark corners where the public doesn’t often get to look. That’s where the corruption and good-ol-boy deals happen. That’s also where the law and the Constitution get subverted, and frankly that is where we need more people from the outside looking in.
I look in these dark places using tenacity and the public records laws. You have a right to know what is going on in your local government. However, often times you cannot tell why a local government isn’t willing to comply with the Missouri Sunshine Act. Sometimes they are unaware of their legal obligations, and other times they just don’t care. And then there are local governments who take an openly hostile approach to meeting their obligations under the law. In Missouri, the sunshine laws allow for real penalties against those organizations and people who purposely subvert the public records laws. In my opinion we need to ensure public officials know there are consequences to ignoring your rights!
If you are having a problem obtaining access to your local government’s public records please let me know.