There are many instances in which a citizen may wish to obtain records from a government entity. Those may include seeking minutes from a council meeting, contracts between the government body and an independent contractor, or simply requesting more information on a water bill. Fortunately, the Missouri Sunshine Law allows the citizen the opportunity to obtain any open public records. First and foremost, though, the proper procedure must be followed.
- Make a Written Request. In order to keep a clear record of your request, make your request for records in writing and reference that you are making a request under the Missouri Sunshine Law (Missouri Revised Statutes Chapter 610). This way, the government entity will be on notice that you are seeking records and understand the rights available to you under the Sunshine Law.
- Be Clear and Concise. While you may wish to “throw the kitchen sink” at the government body for a records request, the entity cannot respond if it does not understand the records you are seeking. Be clear, concise, and direct in your request for records and give as much information as possible as to the documents you are seeking. This will not only speed up the process in receiving your records, but avoid receiving and paying for records that you do not wish to receive.
- Ask for Costs up Front. In your letter, it is best to ask for a cost estimate in complying with your request. Remember, the government entity may charge you not only the cost of $0.10 cents per page, but the average cost of the clerical staff in researching, copying, and responding to your request. While Sunshine Law requests can cost as little as $1.00, they can also cost as much as $1,000.00. I recommend setting a budget up front and asking the entity to contact you if it is anticipated it will exceed your budget.
- Method of Delivery. Make sure to specify how you want the documents delivered and how you want to be notified. If you want to be notified by mail make sure to put your address. Email, put your email address. Phone number, put your phone number. Make it as easy as possible for the government entity to respond to you so that there are no excuses if you do not receive your documents.
- Calendar, Calendar, Calendar. Make sure to calendar the date the request was sent, the date the request was received by the government entity, and three (3) business days after the date the request was received. The government entity must respond to you within three (3) business days but does not necessarily have to produce the documents at that time. If the government entity requests for additional time, make sure that the specific date and time when the records will be available is set forth in the letter. Calendar that date as well.
Should you need any additional help in making a Sunshine Law request to a government entity please let us know and one of our attorneys will be happy to assist you.