Clerk with a Camera: Municipal Checkbook Hall of Fame
The initial response to the Show-Me Institute’s municipal checkbook Sunshine Law request from the city of Linneus, a small town with a population of less than 300 in north central Missouri, was familiar to me. Even though we had only been receiving emails about our request for less than 24 hours, I had already seen several of Missouri’s smaller cities respond in the same way.
“We don’t have any of our records on electronic format,” the email read. “Everything is done by hand on paper.” I typed up my standard response to this type of email, asking Linneus’s clerk to copy and mail the city’s expense records if she could, and to inform us what she thought the copies, work, and postal service fees would cost so we could make a budget decision before she started working. I assumed that, like several other small towns before, Linneus would send an estimate, I would note it in an ever-expanding spreadsheet, and the case would be left alone until the municipal checkbook team could decide whether we would fund the inquiry.
Linneus’s city clerk, Patricia Brandes, had a different idea. After telling me she didn’t know what the cost for over 100 copies would be at the Linneus courthouse, she sent me one of my favorite emails of the entire municipal checkbook project.
“Maybe I could try taking pictures of them with my phone and email them to you. Would that work?”
That did work. Patricia sent me the cellphone photos later that day, and you can see all 64 of them for yourself in Linneus’s folder on our online drive. Although they may not be as instantly readable as the Excel sheets and PDFs sent in by some of our state’s municipalities, the images still reveal Linneus’s dedication to transparency. Patricia turned in every page of the city’s pen-and-paper operating expense record from July 2021 to July 2022, including amounts paid and names of vendors. What’s more, she was willing to take time to think of a creative, free solution that fulfilled our request, despite the limited resources of a city as small as Linneus. That’s a clear demonstration of the culture of transparency our project hopes to find in all of Missouri’s municipalities, and reflects well on Linneus’s city government’s commitment to serving the public.