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Editor's Notebook: My Take on the Missouri Sunshine Law

Save the money and hassle by giving public records away free of charge.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I want to acknowledge my personal feelings regarding access to public records.

The Brentwood Board of Aldermen again for its interpretation of the Missouri Sunshine Law. The law, which is enforced by the attorney general's office, was created to guarantee the public's right to access public documents.

It's nothing new in Brentwood. Residents about the city's interpretation of the sunshine law. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Brentwood were over the city's interpretation of the sunshine law.

As editor of Maplewood-Brentwood Patch (and member of different journalism organizations that advocate for increased transparency in government), I routinely request public records from the different entities I cover.

I always ask for any charges to be waived because I'm using the documents in the interest of the public and not for commercial gain. That means I don't plan to sell police report information to attorneys or candidate filing information to advertising companies, for example.

Some departments, such as the , regularly charge me for documents. Others, even within Maplewood, never charge me for documents. Each entity is allowed by law to add charges based on an hourly rate and up to 10 cents per page, but those entities can waive fees if they wish.

For example, Maplewood city manager Marty Corcoran gave me a copy of the city's 2011-12 line-item budget—which included a breakdown of every projected city expense—free of charge.

For me to obtain a line-item budget with individual salary information in Brentwood, however, would require a substantial charge for staff time, I've been told.

At issue isn't whether some documents should be available for copying (city officials and I sometimes disagree about that, too, though I often understand their points of view — but that's another conversation).

Instead, we're talking about access to documents.

For some residents—especially those with limited disposal income—paying might not be a cost they can justify.

Finding ? Maybe, but probably not.

Brentwood city officials counter that it requires staff time to produce these reports. An attorney must review the documents to ensure the city can't be sued for the information that's released. Clerks have to find and copy the reports. This stuff takes time. And money.

I don't agree with that point of view. Public documents should be available to everyone, even if they don't possess the disposable income to pay for them.

But perhaps my blinders are on. Maybe I'm one of only a handful of people who cares about this issue locally.

I'll end with one note. If you want to view public records and are unsure how to do it (or how to pay for copies), then please call or email me. I'll be happy to help.

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