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Plans to tear down old Cole County jail and sheriff's house move forward April 16, 2014

Our Opinion: Open-and-shut Sunshine Law provisions

A hearing on changes to the state’s Sunshine Law is like a dog whistle to journalists.

Admittedly, we have a vested interest in open meetings and open records; openness enhances our ability to do our job.

We contend you, the public, share that interest.

In a free society, you have a right to know what your government is doing and we have a professional obligation to report it.

We support the proposed changes in the bill sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, including a provision to extend a specific restriction.

His proposal contains an emergency clause to extend, for five years, closure of records about security systems and security operations, which expired on Dec. 31 of last year. The provision applies to schools and other public buildings.

We can envision no circumstances where that information needs to be available to the public.

Another provision we support essentially would eliminate abuse in closing meetings or records relating to legal actions.

We have experienced situations where government officials have closed, or attempted to close, meetings based on a belief that litigation is possible or probable.

That is not legal action, that is the prospect of legal action.

Under Schaefer’s bill, a governing body must have received evidence that a lawsuit has been filed or shall have correspondence indicating a lawsuit shall be filed.

Schaefer said his bill is designed to shift the burden of establishing openness from citizens to governing bodies. He said his proposal “creates a presumption that meetings are open, and the governmental entity has the burden to establish that the meeting or record was closed.”

The presumption of openness must govern the philosophy of public officials and the operations of governing bodies.

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