The 5 Q's: Jean Maneke promotes access to public information with Sunshine Week

Mar. 12—In this weekly feature, we put five questions before someone in the community. Today, we chat with Jean Maneke, of the Maneke Law Group, about Sunshine Week, which is this week.

1. What is Sunshine Week and why should it be celebrated?

Sunshine Week was created in 2005 by a media organization called American Society of News Editors, now known as News Leaders Association, as an occasion to recognize the importance of open government.

Today, the annual recognition is celebrated nationally by NLA along with the Society of Professional Journalists. In Missouri, the week is celebrated by Missouri Sunshine Coalition, along with members of Missouri Press Association.

It marks a time that news media throughout the state focus on reporting on open government issues and the public's right to know about how their government functions.

2. How does the Sunshine Law hold our government accountable and protect the public?

Missouri's open meetings and open records law functions to set out what the requirements are for ensuring the public's right of access to government meetings, and the right to see public records held by public bodies. This allows citizens access to information about how tax dollars are spent.

It is designed to prevent public bodies from playing favorites in who is awarded public funds contracts and to ensure that those doing business with public bodies or being taxed by local governments are being treated equally.

3. What is the purpose of the Missouri Sunshine Law? What is the penalty for violating the Sunshine Law?

The purpose of the Sunshine Law, in short, is to ensure the public has access to records accounting for how public funds are spent and what actions are being taken by state and local government. Its purpose is to ensure the public is given access to public meetings, so that actions are not taken behind closed doors which impact the local community.

The civil penalty for a "knowing" violation of the Sunshine Law is a fine of up to $1,000. The court may also impose on the violators the payment of the attorneys' fees incurred by whomever brings suit. If a violation is found to have been done "purposefully," the fine can be up to $5,000 and the court must impose on the violators the payment of the plaintiff's attorneys fees.

4. Over the years, Missouri lawmakers have sought to make changes to the state's Sunshine Law. What are you monitoring this legislative session?

A number of bills have been filed in the Missouri Legislature that would narrow the scope of access the public has to public records. Rather than give the public more access to public records and/or meetings, language in these bills limits the public's access.

For example, legislators are seeking to overcome the constitutional amendment that Missouri voters passed in 2018 making state legislators' records subject to the Sunshine Law. Also, legislators want to undo a Missouri Supreme Court decision of 2021 holding that the costs of redacting closed records from open records should be borne by the public governmental body and not the citizen seeking copies of records. Both of these mean less sunshine, not more sunshine.

5. Why are Sunshine Laws important to a democratic society?

Accountability by public employees ensures that special favors are not being granted to certain citizens, and that tax dollars are property being spent for public benefit. Most public employees are working hard to do their job in a proper manner, but there are cases where corners are cut or special benefits are being given to certain individuals, whether to a friend of the elected official or to the official themselves because nobody is watching. Public accountability keeps everyone honest.

For more information about Sunshine Week, visit

Jean Maneke is an attorney who represents the Missouri Press Association, where she focuses on Sunshine Law issues on the legislative level and assists reporters throughout the state in accessing records.