And so, she said, the city has made a loan to a business... the particulars aren't important tonight to protect the innocent. The business is a slow pay. The city wonders whether to start strong-arming the business into returning some of those tax dollars to its coffers. The short of the long is that it hires an accountant to review records of the business and determine if the business has the cash flow to pay on the debt. The accountant does just that and gives the city its opinion that the cash flow is there.
Of course, then the local newspaper wants access to those underlying records. It makes a sunshine law request. The city suddenly gulps. Does the newspaper have a right to those private business records? Is there an argument that the sunshine law in any way applies to that business? It consults its attorney. The city attorney says no. The city attorney cites a case where a Missouri court said a business that had some eminent domain power was not by that qualification governed by sunshine law particulars.
Alas, I am afraid I disagree. I think it's pretty clear. I believe these records are a "...report, survey, memorandum, or other document or study prepared for the public governmental body by a consultant or other professional service paid for in whole or in part by public funds, including records created or maintained by private contractors under an agreement with a public governmental body or on behalf of a public governmental body...." That makes it a Public Record under the definition contained in Section 610.010 (6). I think the city needs to ask the accountant to turn those records, in full, over to the inquiring reporter.
What's more, the law says that "Any document or study prepared for a public governmental body by a consultant or other professional service as described in this subdivision shall be retained by the public governmental body in the same manner as any other public record." (Emphasis added.) So I don't care that this is a record which is being held by a private accounting business and not at City Hall. It's still a record required to be retained by the City.
The mayor suggested the newspaper publisher should be mayor. Maybe they SHOULD trade places! If that happens, I promise to give the former mayor, now newspaper publisher, some free sunshine law training. We do our best to keep our folks well trained. There are times we fall short. But it's a key goal for me -- I want my folks to know the law forwards and backwards. The public depends on it!