University of Missouri must release records, judge rules

MISSOURI — Later this month, The Kansas City Star will argue that the University of Missouri purposefully violated the Sunshine Law in its attempt to withhold more than 500 internal audits records from public scrutiny.

The Oct. 25 hearing comes on the heels of a state district judge’s ruling that the university must release the audit records, bringing to a head a four-year battle between the school and the newspaper.

The University of Missouri had argued that the records should remain closed because they contained confidential information about individual employees. In his decision in September, Boone County Circuit Court Judge Frank Conley refused the exemption, stating the school failed to provide substantial evidence that the records should have been kept private.

The Star’s request for the records had been denied by school officials who argued that they had the authority to do so according to a 1983 case between University of Missouri and the Columbia Daily Tribune. The court in that case ruled that some issues discussed by the university system’s Board of Curators were not public record.

Conley dismissed the school’s argument and ruled that the university is a public governmental body and therefore must allow full access to its records in accordance with the Sunshine Law.

“The taxpayer-supported University of Missouri system wants to have it both ways: more public dollars but without public scrutiny,” The Kansas City Star stated in a staff editorial. “This attitude — give us money but don’t ask how we’re managing it — insults taxpayers.”

At the hearing later this month, Conley will decide if the university will have to pay court costs and attorney fees for the Star. The university is expected to appeal the decision.

Cypress Media v. Univ. of Missouri, case no. 98CC078044 (Boone County Ct. Sept. 27, 2002)