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Koster files Sunshine suit against Lebanon

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Missouri Attorney General filed suit on March 14 in Laclede County Circuit Court against the city of Lebanon for allegedly violating the Missouri Sunshine Law, the state's open government policy.

In the lawsuit, Koster named the city, as well as Henry Luxem, city administrator; Constant P. "CP" Craig, mayor; and Joseph Brauer, chief of police, according to a news release from the attorney general's office.

According to the lawsuit, in December, Brauer e-mailed employees of the police department to inform them that Lebanon City Council had reversed a Police Advisory Board decision to discipline an employee, Karen Guinn. An open records request was made by City Councilwoman Esther Hurney seeking the e-mail and related documents, but the city denied the request, contending it was not a public record.

In January, the attorney general's office sent Luxem a letter stating that e-mails sent on, received by and retained on the city's computers are public records and requested that the e-mail be disclosed in accordance with the Sunshine Law. To date, the city has not released it, according to the release.

“Missouri’s Sunshine Law is crystal clear that both state and local governments must be open to the people,” Koster said in the release. “Governmental bodies cannot make arbitrary rules to keep our citizens out of the process.”

According to section 610.025 of the Missouri Sunshine Law:

"If a member of a public body transmits an e-mail relating to public business to at least two other members of the body so that, when counting the sender, a majority of members are copied, a copy of the e-mail shall be sent to either the custodian of records, or the member’s public office computer. Any such message ... shall be considered a public record upon receipt by the custodian or at the public member’s computer."

Koster said additional problems have arisen regarding properly maintained police incident reports and the release of arrest reports when they are open records.

In the lawsuit, Koster asks for an injunction prohibiting the defendants from further violating the Missouri Sunshine Law, assesses civil penalties of up to $5,000 for each defendant and would require defendants to pay court costs.

The suit comes in the midst of Sunshine Week, March 13-19, a national initiative to promote open government and freedom of information.
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