Note: This page covers information specific to Missouri. For general information concerning access to government meetings see the Access to Government Meetings section of this guide.Missouri combines its public records and public meetings laws into one statute. It defines the bodies subject to the public meetings law very broadly and has no limitations on who can request records. You do not have to state a purpose to attend meetings.
What Meetings are Covered?
What Government Bodies Are Covered?Any "public governmental body" is subject to the public meetings law. A public governmental body is defined under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.010.4(4) as any "legislative, administrative or governmental entity" that includes any agency, council, committee, any governing body of any public institution of higher education, departments or divisions of the state, any quasi-public body (meaning any person or business whose primary purpose is to contract with public bodies or perform a public function, such as tax abatement) and legislative/administrative bodies with the power to make rules or hear and decide cases.
What is a Meeting?
A public meeting, defined in Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.010.5(5), includes any meeting where "public business is discussed, decided, or public policy formulated" and can be conducted either in person or by teleconferencing, Internet chat or message board. Anytime a majority of the members of the public body take a public vote, whether by electronic communication or otherwise, the vote is subject to the public meetings law.
The term does not include any informal gathering of members of the public body for ministerial or social purposes. The statute doesn't define an "informal gathering," but in Kansas City Star Co. v. Fulson, 859 S.W.2d 934, 939 (Mo. Ct. App. 1993) the Missouri Court of Appeals held that any gathering with friends and associates that was not regularly prescribed or official would be an "informal gathering" and not subject to the public meetings law.
A quorum is needed for a public meeting. Statutes that create individual public bodies will define what constitutes a quorum for that body. The state constitution requires a majority of elected members of each house to constitute a quorum.
While a gathering of less than a quorum is not a meeting, a gathering may still violate the statute if the group in question is deliberately meeting in groups of less than a quorum to discuss public business with the intent of avoiding holding public meetings.
What Are Your Rights?
You have a right to record a meeting by audiotape, videotape or other electronic means. However, if you try to record a closed meeting without permission, you may be guilty of a misdemeanor.
Under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.020, all public bodies must give notice of the time, date and place and agenda of a meeting in a way "reasonably calculated" to notify the public, and they must do no later than 24 hours before the meeting. If conducted electronically or by telephone, the mode for the meeting must be included along with a location where the public may observe.
"Reasonable notice" includes making copies available for any news media who request it and also posting it on a bulletin board at the public body's principal office, or if there is no principal office, then at the building where the meeting will be held.
The public body must hold meetings in a location accessible to the public and large enough to accommodate the expected crowd.
Minutes, Recordings, and DocumentsThe public body must keep a journal or minutes of the meeting which must include the date, time, place, members present and absent, and any votes taken. You can request these minutes through Missouri open records law.
An Exception: Closed Meetings or Sessions
A majority of a quorum of the public body may vote to close the meeting. The body must announce the reason for closing. The body is also required to give notice of the closed meeting, and can only close the portions of the meeting that concern the matters justifying closure.
Under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.021, you don't have a right to attend meetings where the following are being discussed:
- Any legal action where an attorney is discussing confidential or privileged communications with the public body, with the exception that any minutes, vote or settlement agreement relating to the action will be public
- Any meetings where the body discuss hiring, firing, disciplining or promoting employees, with the exception that the final vote will be public
- Nonjudicial mental/physical health proceedings
- Welfare cases
- Meetings that prepare for negotiations with employee groups
- Meetings relating to scientific or technological innovations
What Are Your Remedies If You Are Denied Access?
You can sue the public body for improperly holding closed meetings under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.027. If you can prove that a record was supposed to be public and you were denied access, then the public body must show that it was complying with the law or else you win your case. The court must void any action that the public body took in violation of the law if it finds that the public interest in enforcing the law outweighs the interest in sustaining whatever action the public body took.
If you can also show that the public body knowingly violated the public meetings law, the court must award you damages, up to $1,000. In calculating your award, the court must consider the size of the jurisdiction, the seriousness of the offense, and whether the body has previously violated the law. The court may give you costs and attorney fees. The statute doesn't define a "knowing" violation, but in Wright v. City of Salisbury, No. 2:07CV00056 AGF, 2010 WL2947709 (E.D.Mo. 2010), the federal district court in the Eastern District of Missouri, applying state law, held that a "knowing" violation referred to evidence that the public body knew that they were violating the public meetings law.
If you can show that the body purposely violated the law, the court must give you damages, up to $5,000 as well as costs and attorney fees. In calculating your award, the court must consider the size of the jurisdiction, the seriousness of the offense, and whether the body has previously violated the law. Again, the statute doesn't define "purposely", but in Spradlin v. City of Fulton, 982 S.W.2d 255 (Mo. Ct. App. 1998), the Missouri Court of Appeals held that a purposeful violation is one that shows a conscious plan to violate the law.
The courts also have the power to enforce public meetings provisions through injunctions under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.030.
If you sue a public body for a closed meeting violation, make sure you do within one year pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.027.5(5).