An Overview of the Missouri Open Records (Sunshine) Law
It is the official public policy of Missouri that state and local governments must act in the open, unless there is specific authority for a closed meeting or vote. Chapter 610 RSMo., is the Open Meetings Law, otherwise referred to as the Sunshine Law. All government entities must hold public meetings. A public meeting is defined as any meeting of a public governmental body at which any public business is discussed, decided or public policy formulated. All votes of the public body must be recorded. Votes must be recorded in roll call form to go into closed meeting and for all issues decided in closed meeting. The Sunshine Law requires that notice be posted at the principal office of the public body, or at the place of the meeting, at least 24 hours prior to the meeting, excluding weekends and holidays. At a minimum, the notice must contain the time, date, place and tentative agenda. Copies of the notice should be made available to the press where there is a prior request for notice. A meeting may be held on less than 24 hours notice, but reasonable notice must be given and the explanation for the meeting must be recorded in the minutes. Every meeting must be held at a place sufficient in size to accommodate the public and must be at a reasonable time. Every reasonable effort is required to be made for those needing special access to the meeting. The public body must allow the meeting to be audio or video taped, but may adopt a policy to specify the manner of the recording. The Sunshine Law also allows for a closed meeting to occur under certain circumstances. Typically, a closed meeting may occur to discuss: (1) Legal actions, causes of action or litigation and any confidential or privileged communications between a public governmental body or its representatives and its attorneys. (2) Leasing, purchase or sale of real estate by a public governmental body where public knowledge of the transaction might adversely affect the legal consideration therefor. (3) Hiring, firing, disciplining or promoting of particular employees by a public governmental body when personal information about the employee is discussed or recorded. A closed meeting can only occur if a majority of the quorum votes affirmatively to close the meeting. The specific purpose for the closed meeting must be mentioned and placed in the minutes. Notice must be given in advance of the closed meeting. Only that portion of the meeting that is necessary shall be closed and the body shall make a provision for the public to remain elsewhere in the building to attend any subsequent open meeting. Nothing in the law requires a closed meeting. The Missouri Supreme Court recently decided the case of Purcell vs. Cape Girardeau County Commission. In the decision, the Court held that a governmental official must object to a closed meeting at the earliest possible opportunity. In essence, this means you must object at the time of the meeting and refuse to participate in the same.
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