“Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me,” Missouri congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver said in an 1899 speech: “I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”
Note to Missouri governor Mike Parson: You’re getting this “Show-Me State” business all wrong.
Parson tried to charge Elad Gross, a candidate for state attorney general, $3,618 for documents Gross requested under the state’s Sunshine Law, claiming more than 90 hours of required “research and processing” at $40 per hour. The “processing” involved having attorneys redact information from the requested documents. The state’s Supreme Court ruled against Parson last June.
In the meantime, the state’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, claimed that he couldn’t investigate alleged violations of the Sunshine Law by the governor’s office because that office (rather than, say, the people of Missouri) is his “client.”
Now Parson’s asking the state legislature to amend the Sunshine Law so that he can keep more government documents secret and charge more for handing over such information as it might happen to please him to show.
It’s not just Missouri. Politicians and bureaucrats at every level of American government love keeping secrets from the media and from the mere serfs they claim to work for. They “classify” information, try to hide that information behind novel claims of “executive” or “attorney-client” privilege, or just jack up Sunshine Law fees so that the average taxpayer can’t afford to find out what his supposed employees are up to.
Those first two methods of thwarting transparency probably have to be dealt with in court on a case-by-case basis, but there’s an easy solution to the third.
How many billions of dollars has government spent putting a computer in every cubicle and building Internet-connected data centers complete with public-facing web sites?
Missouri’s legislature, and the legislatures of other states, SHOULD amend the Sunshine Laws — and the amendments should require all government documents and recordings of all government meetings to be posted in a timely manner to public-facing web sites with robust search functionality.
If a government employee, office, or department wants an exception for a particular document or recording, that document or recording should be posted to a closed database/site for review, within ten days, by a court. Or, better yet, by a randomly selected panel of registered voters, with a unanimous vote required to approve keeping the document or recording from public view.
Government transparency should be the rule, not the expensive exception.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.