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Our Opinion: Attorney General chooses governor over Missourians

June 27, 2021 at 4:05 a.m. | Updated June 27, 2021 at 11:05 a.m.

Missouri's Attorney General's Office, which is tasked with enforcing the state's open meetings/records law, said it won't enforce the law when there are accusations the governor violated it.

While that might make political sense, it doesn't make common sense.

The Missouri Independent reported that in response to a Sunshine Law complaint by the Missouri Independent over Gov. Mike Parson's refusal to turn over the resignation letters of two cabinet members, Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office said it could not get involved because the Governor's Office is considered a client.

The news source reported the decision came even after Schmitt's office, and previous attorneys general, have weighed in on or launched Sunshine Law investigations into the executive branch for potential violations in the past.

Resignation letters, we contend, generally should be open records. If there is information in them that should be closed under the Sunshine Law, which is the state's open records/meetings law, then it can be redacted.

However, the Governor's Office has refused to release the letters entirely. (They've been released routinely in past administrations.) And the Attorney General, rather than acting in the public's interest, is acting in the governor's interest.

The problem with this is that, without governmental oversight, Missourians will have to hire a private attorney if governmental agencies are not complying with the Sunshine Law.

Most people don't have the time or money to do that. And that just emboldens agencies to be more secretive - they know the chance they will be challenged are slim.

We don't deny the AG is in a tough spot with two clients - the governor and Missourians - who, unfortunately, have potentially different legal interests.

But if the AG has a conflict, it should use an independent outside legal counsel to address the complaint against the Governor's Office.

Jean Maneke, attorney for the Missouri Press Association, takes that a step further. She told the Missouri Independent that Missouri needs a state office or official who can serve as an independent public records counsel outside of the Attorney General's Office.

Other states have done this, and we agree with Maneke that Missouri should as well.

News Tribune

Print Headline: Our Opinion: AG chooses governor over Missourians

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