JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Office of Administration (OA) providing unredacted records to one organization and not another has resulted in a legal challenge from the Show-Me Institute.
The St. Louis-based think tank filed a lawsuit in Cole County Wednesday alleging OA knowingly violated Missouri’s Sunshine Law. The case has been assigned to Cole County Judge Daniel Green.
“Despite being aware of their obligation to produce to [Show-Me Institute] the same public information the Office had already provided to AFSCME and in particular the Sunshine Law’s specification that a public governmental body may not rely on a contract to justify granting a private entity exclusive access to public information, the Office and the Custodian nonetheless have refused to produce this public information to [Show-Me Institute],” the lawsuit stated.
AFSCME, or the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is national trade union under contract by the state.
At issue is information the state provided to AFSCME. It was unredacted when provided to the union but redacted when the Show-Me Institute asked for it, the lawsuit alleged.
The Show-Me Institute is seeking a declaratory judgment requiring OA to produce the unredacted copies of the information sought.
Per a labor contract, OA “will provide the union with a current list of active bargaining unit employees” once each quarter, along with information for each employee including names, payments, work addresses, home addresses, and mailing addresses. The contract, which is still in effect, was signed on May 11, 2015, with the state — seven departments and several other entities — and AFSCME Council 72.
Patrick Ishmael, director of government accountability for the Show-Me Institute, filed a Sunshine request for copies of the information OA sends to AFSCME “in precisely the same format” on June 6. The request covered 2016, 2017, and 2018.
OA provided the records but redacted individually identifiable personnel information.
Dave Roland, director of litigation at the Freedom Center of Missouri who represents the Show-Me Institute in the lawsuit, alleged OA cannot withhold information that has already been provided to another organization, citing the Sunshine Law.
In a response to Roland’s protest of the redacted information, OA legal counsel Kelly Hopper wrote the information given to AFSCME was done so not under the Sunshine Law but as part of the labor agreement. She said OA “has not entered into a contract granting anyone, including AFSCME, ‘the exclusive right to access and disseminate any public record.’”
Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at email@example.com.