Happy Sunshine Week!
This week marks the 10th Anniversary of Sunshine Week. It’s a time to celebrate freedom of information, but also serves as a reminder that there are still some dark corners of government in need of transparency. In a recent study, the non-profit organization, Better Together, tried to obtain financial and operational information from municipalities using the state’s Sunshine Law.
The report found that some cities responded quickly and at low cost, while others did not. Deputy director of community based studies Marius Johnson-Malon was quoted by Saint Louis Public Radio:
“Sometimes we were met with different requests for money up to $2,000 to provide the information we were looking for. Sometimes people would say it was going to take up to six months, and that is in contrast to some municipalities that got us the information on the same day they received the request and provided it for free.”
Johnson-Malon’s experience with varying transparency is not rare. I encountered a similar issue while requesting information regarding public school collective bargaining agreements. Some districts emailed the information within minutes at no cost. Others referred me to the district attorney or offered to retrieve the information at costs of up to $100.
Collective bargaining in public schools should be transparent, but as SMI Policy Researcher John Wright has pointed out, a legal loophole allows collective negotiations between school districts and teachers’ unions to remain behind closed doors.
Last month, a bill was introduced that will open collective negotiations to the public. Parents and taxpayers have the right to know what demands unions are making, especially if those demands affect the education of children.
The Missouri Sunshine Law may be nothing like a subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club, but as Eddie in Christmas Vacation famously said, it’s “the gift that keeps on giving all year round.” Happy Sunshine Week!