A list of the top Sunshine Law violations by local governments in Missouri got our attention, particularly after reading a commentary about rising distrust of government both nationally and globally.
Government, on all levels, must do a better job of being transparent and responsive to the public, or face a rising tide of populism among disaffected and disgruntled constituents.
Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway has identified the five most common Sunshine Law violations, based on audits of county, city and other government entities during a one-year period from July 2015 through June 2016.
The list of violations includes:
• The reasons for closing a meeting were not documented adequately, or the reasons were documented, but not allowable under the law.
• Minutes were not prepared for open meetings.
• Minutes were not prepared for closed meetings.
• Meeting minutes were not always reviewed or approved in a timely manner.
• A meeting agenda was not prepared or posted, or did not include adequate information related to the upcoming meeting.
These violations are serious, although they are overlooked all too often. Governments, particularly, must obey laws established by government.
Beyond that, violations exacerbate the public perception that government officials have established a double standard where they exempt themselves from the rules others must follow.
On a broader scale, this was the topic of an Orange County Register viewpoint titled “Populism arises from failures of political class,” published in Thursday’s News Tribune.
Citing examples from home and abroad, the authors wrote: “Populism is trending globally. There is an evident global frustration with those in the political class who are viewed to be out of touch with the average person. These folks are voting for what they believe will disrupt the political system and displace the establishment.”
Evidence from this election cycle includes candidates campaigning as “outsiders” ready and willing to replace “career politicians.”
Prevailing public perception is the political class is seen as ineffective, uncompromising and — worst of all — insensitive to the problems of their constituents.
Some violations result from ignorance of the Sunshine Law, which is why we favor a tutorial for all newly elected office holders.
Intentional violations, however, are inexcusable and indicate an approach that puts self-interest above public interest.