A newspaper called yesterday to talk about its difficulty with a county that has issued a policy on the release of minutes of Commissioners' meetings. The policy is amazing. I'm wondering if that county's officials have looked at their sunshine law booklets at all.
The policy begins by stating that it will set a flat fee for copies of the commissions' minutes. It doesn't matter whether those minutes are lengthy or short -- in fact, in the press release that was issued, the clerk even admits "Some minutes will be lengthy while other minutes will be relatively short based on the topic of their meetings." Doesn't matter. The fee for copies will be the same. The clerk declares this to be a "fair playing filed (field?) for all." Regardless, when the law in Section 610.026 says that the cost for copies shall be ten cents per page plus the cost for the person copying them based on their pay, plus the time for research to acquire the minutes based on the rate of pay of the researcher, a flat fee of $4 is invalid on its face.
"Keep in mind that just because the Commissioners meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, that does not mean you would receive the copies of them (the minutes, we assume) on Wednesday and Friday. It takes time for us to type them and then have the Commissioners sign. If for any reason a Commissioner is absent, that would extend the time before you would receive your copies," the Clerk's press release says.
This is a clerk who doesn't understand that "minutes" are "minutes" in whatever form they are in. If they are scribbles in a notebook, they are minutes. If they are typed in the computer but unapproved by anyone at that time, they are still minutes. If a request comes in for the handwritten notes on Wednesday, they are "records retained by a public body" and must be provided to the public. If the draft notes are typed and printed out, but not yet approved by the Commission, they still are "records retained by a public body" and must be made available in response to a sunshine request. The fact that nobody has signed those minutes is irrelevant. If they exist only on a tape recorder, the tape is a public record.
Indeed, even the official sunshine law book produced by Attorney General Chris Koster addresses this question. In the Frequently Asked Questions section, one question asks "Do minutes retained in 'draft' form have to be provided to the public within three business days of the request?" He answers, in the book, "Yes. A draft of the minutes is a 'public record' under Section 610.010(6) and must be provided as soon as possible (emphasis added) and no later than the end of the third business day after the request is received."
Let me respectfully suggest that this is a public body that needs to reassess its policy for access to minutes, before it finds itself violating the sunshine law! This time, hopefully, it will read the book before it creates its policies!