Missouri Sunshine Law - Local Government Matrix (Cartoon)
The cartoon above accurately depicts the difficulty some citizens find when trying to access documents by governments who are legally required to supply documents upon request to citizens.
In Branson, Missouri many of our local journalists have converted from Government Watchdogs to Government Lapdogs.
The sad state of affairs has led some local politicians to bow out of open, honest discussion and revert to backrooms during this campaign season. A local area newspaper editor stated last week, "It's citizens job to be informed". The statement was interesting being that it came from an organization supposedly dedicated to informing citizens about their local government. This would of course require an open and honest press adamant about producing accurate information and helping citizen efforts to become informed. The editor is right. It is citizens responsibility to be informed but the ability to acquire information isn't as easy as many would like.
Often, due to an issue that directly affects a member of the community, a citizen will approach city hall to request records.
Generally helpful, the City Clerk (In Branson it's upstairs on the second floor next to the courthouse)will require you to fill out a form. The form has a space for a maximum dollar amount. The dollar amount caps research and document printing fees. In general, the office is reasonable and the cost for documents minuscule.
Unfortunately, citizens often become irritated when trying to find information due to scope parameters of the request.
It's best to keep these requests simple and dig deeper if necessary. For instance, if you want to find out who voted for Branson's last TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district you'd have to submit a request for a list of the TIF board. In the event the document is filled requesting all information relating to the TIF; the city clerk is obliged to provide all the information about the TIF. In the case of the Branson Landing TIF, you could be looking at a dozen bible sized pages of material. The Clerk would come back with a substantial fee far from the range most would be willing to spend.
Rule #1 - Be specific, concise and clear about the information you're requesting