A look back at two years’ worth of open records audits show most local and state bodies are complying with the state’s open records law, but the state auditor says there are some problems.
The biennial review looked at nearly 300 audits of bodies at all levels of government, including local city councils and school boards, state agencies and even the legislature.
Auditor Tom Schweich says in 44 audits or about 15 percent, there were violations.
“The main problem was when they went from open session to closed session,” says Schweich. “In 24 cases entities failed to document the reason for closing the meeting. That’s very important because people are entitled to know why they’re not going to have any more transparency.”
State law does allow for public meetings to be closed for specific reasons, such as employee health issues or personnel matters, but Schweich says not every entity did a good job of explaining why it would go into closed session.
In 18 cases, Schweich says, minutes for closed sessions were not detailed enough to meet state requirements or were not kept at all. In 19 cases, the topics discussed in closed session should not have been.
“We believe that unallowable topics were discussed … they discussed matters that should have been discussed in open session,” says Schweich.
He says in many instances, particularly those in some local governments and school boards, the violations can be attributed to a lack of understanding of the law.
“Often the people have not been adequately trained on what Sunshine Law compliance is. In some cases they have been trained and just didn’t pay attention to their training, forgot their training or decided to ignore their training,” he says.