Court says Columbia city manager "knowingly" violated Sunshine Law
COLUMBIA - The office of Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes knowingly violated the Sunshine Law, a Boone County judge ruled in a lawsuit filed by the Columbia Police Officer's Association.
Judge J. Hasbrouck Jacobs made the ruling Tuesday, more than a year and a half after the lawsuit was first filed. CPOA filed the suit after its request for responses to a survey from the city manager's office was denied. The survey, given in August 2016, asked about possible shift changes for city police officers.
CPOA executive director Dale Roberts said the ruling upholds the importance of Missouri's Sunshine Law.
"It clearly establishes that the law means what it says, that those public records are available to anyone who requests them and that we were right all along," Roberts said.
When CPOA requested the responses, the city manager's office denied the request, saying the records were closed due to their containing "personnel information."
Roberts called the argument "silly".
"These were anonymous surveys and a personnel record is something that has to be personally identifiable to you, your name, your social security number, whatever. So to say these were personnel documents is laughable," he said.
The court ruled, however, the records are not protected from disclosure, and the city didn't treat them as protected in that Matthes talked about the surveys publicly.
Jacobs ruled the "City’s conduct in asserting the exemptions and then, only after CPOA filed this lawsuit, filing a counterclaim acknowledging 'doubt' about its own previously steadfast position, constitutes actual knowledge that its conduct violated the Sunshine Law."
KOMU 8 News reached out to city spoksperson Steven Sapp, who said Matthes hasn't had the chance to evaluate the ruling due to his involvement with the Rob Sanders case.
The court has ordered the city to pay $1,000 as a penalty for the Sunshine Law violation, as well as attorneys' fees for CPOA, an amount to be determined at a May 29 hearing.
[editor's note: this story has been updated with the latest information.]