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Can Missouri's Governor Get Around Open Records Laws? The State Auditor Wants To Know

Carolina Hildalgo
St. Louis Public Radio file photo
Gov. Mike Parson's office has invoked the First Amendment when redacting some personal information from public records.

Updated at 3:42 p.m. with governor's statement  — Missouri’s auditor wants to know whether it’s OK for Gov. Mike Parson’s office to claim First Amendment rights when redacting certain pieces of information from public records.

When Parson took office in the wake of the scandal surrounding then-Gov. Eric Greitens, he pledged to “bring honor, integrity and transparency” to the office. But in late April, Parson spokesman Steele Shippy told the Kansas City Star that the governor’s office was redacting phone numbers and addresses of private citizens from public records for privacy reasons.

Shippy also told the newspaper he believed the office had the authority to do so.

But on Tuesday, Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway requested a legal opinion from the attorney general, saying she wanted to know whether it’s “appropriate” to redact information that could show who’s trying to lobby or do business with the governor’s office.

Credit Samuel King / KCUR 89.3 file photo
KCUR 89.3 file photo
Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, says their should be "no confusion" when it comes to how the state's open records law is applied.

"Government should not be in the business of finding ways to hide information from taxpayers, but time and again, we have seen continued efforts to do just that,” she said, then referred to the Star’s story as why she “requested clarification … as to whether these actions were lawful.”

“There should be no confusion on how the Sunshine Law (the state’s public records law) is applied,” Galloway added.  

It isn’t clear how long it’ll take Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican who was appointed to the position by Parson, to respond to Galloway’s request. His spokesman said in an emailed statement that the attorney general is “currently reviewing the request and deciding on further steps."

“The Attorney General is dedicated to protecting, defending, and enforcing the Sunshine Law, and he works every day to ensure transparency at all levels of government,” the statement read.

Parson spokesman Steele Shippy said in an emailed statement that Galloway's request is "another lame partisan political attempt" and that the governor's office will "continue to protect the personal information of Missourians, as the law allows for under both the First Amendment and Missouri’s Sunshine Law.”

The request comes at a time when the General Assembly is considering reversing voters’ decision to make lawmakers’ records public.

But the Sunshine Law has been an issue at the statehouse for a couple of years, from Greitens’ staff and other state agencies using secretive apps to communicate to the Star revealing that former Attorney General Josh Hawley, now a U.S. senator, had staffers use private emails to communicate with consultants for his Senate campaign.

Shippy also said in his statement that Galloway "admitted to using auto-delete functions to destroy text messages on a state cellphone." Earlier this year, a judge ruled Galloway didn't evade the state's open records laws by using an iPhone that deleted messages after 30 days.

Erica Hunzinger is an editor at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @ehunzinger.

Erica Hunzinger is the news editor for the Kansas News Service.
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