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Officeholders discuss Sunshine Law policy

Several St. Francois County officeholders met recently to discuss implementing a policy on Sunshine Law requests.

Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson said part of the reason for where they are at now is that there were essentially very few, if any, policies the county had and some were outdated.

“We developed a personnel policy and that helped us realize we need some policies other than that, like operating policies and that is where we are now, to make this an official policy,” Wilkinson said. “We have some examples here the auditor’s office has provided us and the resolution.”

St. Francois County officeholders and citizens meet to discuss the implementation of a policy to address Sunshine Law requests.

St. Francois County officeholders and citizens meet to discuss the implementation of a policy to address Sunshine Law requests.

St. Francois County Auditing Manager Specialist Amber Menjoulet said the policy is more along the line of the resolution, which is already in place.

“At the beginning it says all Sunshine Law requesters shall read and complete the following information, please attach the Sunshine Law request letter with all details of the request to this form,” Menjoulet read. “If clarification, or additional details are needed, you will be contacted prior to fulfilling the request.”

Menjoulet said they recommend being specific in detail in the request to prevent misinterpretation. It says the county clerk is the custodian of records and all Sunshine Law requests shall be addressed and delivered to the St. Francois County Clerk.

Here is a prior resolution naming custodian of records.

Here is a prior resolution naming custodian of records.

St. Francois County Auditing Manager Specialist Amber Menjoulet goes over the proposed Sunshine Law policy.

St. Francois County Auditing Manager Specialist Amber Menjoulet goes over the proposed Sunshine Law policy.

“It also addresses fees. The fees to be charged for access or furnishing copies of records shall be as hereinafter provided. Paper copies will be 10 cents per page, plus the hourly fee for duplicating, time not to exceed the average hourly rate for clerical staff of the office fulfilling the request,” Menjoulet said. “If research time is required it will be billed at the actual cost to do the research and the hourly rate charged will be the hourly rate or equivalent of the employee.”

Menjoulet said if an outside source is used, the rate charge will be the actual rate charged by the source. 

Here is the proposed Sunshine Law policy form.

Here is the proposed Sunshine Law policy form.

“I thought it was important, records that are fully electronic and are provided electronically with no physical copies being made, shall not be charged 10 cents per page, but the hourly fee and research time for producing the records shall be charged the same as non-electronic requests.”

Menjoulet explained that means if they are able to email it, then there shouldn’t be a charge because nothing was actually printed. She doesn’t think that was something that was an issue back when the resolution was originally created.

Pricing sheet for Sunshine Law requests.

Pricing sheet for Sunshine Law requests.

“This won’t affect what some officeholders charge for requests that come in that they are required by statute to provide,” said Menjoulet. “A deposit shall be required prior to initiating any fulfillment of the records requested.”

She said the deposit shall be a minimum of $25 or 50 percent of the estimated cost, whichever is greater and any overage will be refunded to the requester upon fulfillment of the request and any remaining balance shall be paid prior to the requested records being released.

“If the requester refuses the records provided or to pay the remaining balance, the deposit provided shall be non-refundable,” Menjoulet said. “That is the public policy of the St. Francois County Commission that meetings, records, votes, actions and deliberations of this body shall be open to the public, unless otherwise provided by law.”

Officeholders stressed concerns about certain wordage and notes were made to make appropriate changes. Menjoulet said this was just a rough draft and that was why they were meeting to discuss the subject.

Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson, right, discusses the need of a Sunshine Law policy, while Treasurer Kerry Glore, left, listens.

Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson, right, discusses the need of a Sunshine Law policy, while Treasurer Kerry Glore, left, listens.

Wilkinson said if he were requesting information he would want to make sure his request was clear and this was the reason for developing this policy.

Officeholders in attendance during the meeting were Treasurer Kerry Glore, Wilkinson, Collector Pam Williams, Recorder Steve Grider, Assessor Dan Ward, and Auditor Louie Seiberlich. Also in attendance was Menjoulet, Road and Bridge Supervisor Clay Copeland, county resident Georgia Tinnon and Vonne Karraker, an attorney with Manley, Karraker & Karraker in Farmington.

Once the floor was open for public comments and questions, Tinnon asked how the public would know about this policy if it’s approved.

Menjoulet said they would update their website and the information could then be easily found. Tinnon said she doesn’t have a computer. She also said she made a Sunshine Law request from Washington D.C and she didn’t have to pay a dime.

“Well this is St. Francois County ma’am and we are trying to develop a policy, that’s the goal,” Wilkinson said. “Anybody else have a comment or should we open it up for comment?”

Tinnon said she had another question and asked if someone requests information and gets a bunch of excess stuff with the information they are requesting, why should someone receive all of that and then be charged 10 cents a page for it.

Wilkinson said he would say it was an unclear request. Menjoulet added she thinks the request in question was vague and as the responsibility of a county employee, if the request is vague and just states reimbursements, then they are required by law to provide all reimbursements.

“I think this form is important because we recommend people being very specific in their request if there is a specific record,” Menjoulet said. “If you want to see just travel reimbursements, then state ‘travel reimbursements,’ not just reimbursements, or you will get information that you probably don’t want.”

Menjoulet said they don’t want that either because it is very time-consuming and most people in the county have other work to do to provide for the taxpayers. She stressed when they stop to work on Sunshine requests, which they are absolutely willing and 100 percent able to do, they want to make sure their time is best utilized.

“We want to make sure the person requesting is fully satisfied,” Menjoulet said. “We don’t want to hide anything and want to provide what we can. If we get a generic request we are going to provide everything that request will entail.”

St. Francois County resident Georgia Tinnon asks several questions about the policy.

St. Francois County resident Georgia Tinnon asks several questions about the policy.

Tinnon said the Sunshine Law is to bring things to light. Menjoulet agreed and said that is what they did, they provided everything that was requested of them.

“If you were not in your position, just a general resident and you request something and you get a huge stack of papers when you ask three questions…” Tinnon said.

Wilkinson explained that is why the attached letter to the request would be specific to what they are asking for and it would add clarity to the request rather than having a vague request.

“I do think we added a line for if clarification or additional details are needed, you will be contacted prior to fulfilling the request,” Menjoulet said. “I think that is important because if I see we are going to have 800 pages of reimbursements, I can call you and tell you. Just one reimbursement can be five to 10 pages.”

Karraker then addressed a few things she noted while the officeholders discussed the policy proposal.

Vonne Karraker, an attorney with Manley, Karraker & Karraker in Farmington, asks several question about the proposed Sunshine Law policy during a recent meeting.

Vonne Karraker, an attorney with Manley, Karraker & Karraker in Farmington, asks several question about the proposed Sunshine Law policy during a recent meeting.

“You were talking about people’s request being rejected if they didn’t get it to the right person,” Karraker said. “I think the Missouri statute on agency law applies here and every employee of the county is an agent of the county. So if someone drops off a request to the wrong department, I don’t think you can statutorily…”

Wilkinson cut in and said “that won’t happen by the policy because it’s…”

Karraker cut back in and said “For the love of God, I will finish this sentence.”

“Maybe,” Wilkinson said. “Ma’am, Ma’am…”

“I was actually talking, sir. Don’t be rude. Can I not just finish my sentence,” asked Karraker.

“I am not being rude,” Wilkinson replied. “I am trying to keep control of this committee. That would not be accepted because it would be directed to the keeper of the records.”

“Ok, so let me finish my sentence,” Karraker said.

“I’m trying, go ahead,” Wilkinson said.

Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson and Vonne Karraker, an attorney with Manley, Karraker & Karraker in Farmington, have a heated conversation during the comments section of a Sunshine Policy meeting. Also pictured is Georgia Tinnon, center.

Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson and Vonne Karraker, an attorney with Manley, Karraker & Karraker in Farmington, have a heated conversation during the comments section of a Sunshine Policy meeting. Also pictured is Georgia Tinnon, center.

“So basically we have established here that if someone brings in a request to a county employee and drops it off and they didn’t drop it off to the custodian of records, then every department is responsible for making sure that request gets to the right person,” Karraker said. “Am I correct?”

The officeholders responded that is correct and that it has to be responded to within three days.

Menjoulet said it was her recommendation to just communicate with the requester and that will avoid the headache for both parties, just reach out and clarify before anything is even done.

“So who determines if the request is vague?” Karraker asked.

Menjoulet said she felt it would be whoever’s office the information was being requested from and if they had any confusion they could call the requester to clarify.

“I understand that, I think that is an excellent idea,” Karraker said. “I just don’t think the statute allows you to force people to pay a…”

“We will learn that ma’am,” Wilkinson cut in.

“Gosh, would you please, sir, stop interrupting me?” Karraker said.

“Listen, your welcome to sit here and ask your questions, but you have to…” Wilkinson said.

Karraker cut in and said it was open comment and he asked her if she had a comment or questions.

Tensions run high during a recent meeting discussing a proposed policy regarding Sunshine Law requests. From left are Commissioner Gay Wilkinson, Georgia Tinnon and Vonne Karraker.

Tensions run high during a recent meeting discussing a proposed policy regarding Sunshine Law requests. From left are Commissioner Gay Wilkinson, Georgia Tinnon and Vonne Karraker.

“Yes ma’am, but you’re…” Wilkinson said.

“I am talking, but you keep interrupting me,” Karraker said.

“And you keep interrupting the committee,” Wilkinson said.

“Was I interrupting you Ms. Menjoulet?” Karraker asked.

“No, but I have a comment, too,” Wilkinson said. “We will learn what’s permitted and what’s not through our legal counsel.”

For more on the meeting, a video can be viewed on the Daily Journal website or by following this link, https://youtu.be/8DvtCRahvms.

After further discussion Wilkinson said they would submit the policy to their legal advisor and would meet again to discuss any needed changes.

Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or rbronaugh@dailyjournalonline.com

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