Special Assistant Attorneys General who settled the Blunt Administration e-mail case say the case disclosed shortcomings in the state record retention and disclosure laws.
Blunt Administration officials not only declined to disclose e-mails in accordance with the state Sunshine Law, they failed to keep them in accordance with the state records retention law. A hearing in a Jefferson City courtroom revealed that the office operated under incorrect legal advice that later changed to make the office come into compliance. The records retention law, Chapter 109, outlines which records must be retained by state officials and how long they must be kept. The Sunshine Law, Chapter 610, sets state policy on what records must be released to the public as well as what meetings are required to be open to the public.
Special Assistant Attorney General Louis Leonatti says the two laws should work in tandem, but often don’t.
"The record retention law and the Sunshine Law are inconsistent," Leonatti said, "They are almost like a dog and a cat going at each. We’ve got to do something to harmonize those."
Leonatti says the year-long case now settled with the Blunt Administration will result in 60,000 pages of documents being released to the public, but also discloses real problems with the Sunshine Law that need to be addressed.
One problem: if an office claims an exemption, it doesn’t have to give any evidence to back that up. Leonatti suggests lawmakers use the federal Freedom of Information Act as a guide to improve the Missouri Sunshine Law.
"Under the federal law you (have) to identify the date, the time, the sender, the subject matter and some detail if you’re claiming at exemption," said Leonatti. "Under our law, all you have to say is attorney/client privilege."
Also, state law doesn’t concretely define what e-mails must be retained and what can be considered as insignificant and deleted.