I wrote on this site previously about the decision of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources not to release information about dangerously high levels of E. coli in the Lake of the Ozarks until after a busy tourist weekend.
Good reporting by the Kansas City Star brought the issue to light, and the Missouri Attorney General opened an investigation. According to the Star, the AG report is out now. Karen Dillon and Chad Day report:
A Missouri agency made a mistake but broke no laws when it didn’t release Lake of the Ozarks water quality data for weeks, according to an investigation released Thursday.
Attorney General Chris Koster said Missouri Department of Natural Resources employees did not violate the state’s Sunshine Law when they failed to release data that showed dangerously high levels of E. coli, a bacteria, earlier this summer.
The response to the AG’s toothless reaction has not been supportive:
Open records advocates and environmentalist were quick to criticize the report Thursday.
“It raises the question of whether you can violate the Sunshine Law at all,” said Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism.
“We are getting a little too technical when we are splitting hairs about whether something in a request says ‘Sunshine request,’ ” Davis said. “It’s not like it needs a magic sticker on top of it.”
Ken Midkiff, chairman of the Missouri Clean Water Campaign, who filed the open records complaint with the attorney general’s office, said he was “extremely disappointed” in the report’s conclusions.
“It now appears that the AG’s office conducted the investigation in a shabby manner and in a partisan snow job fashion,” Midkiff said in a press release.
The issue really isn’t a "sunshine law" or freedom of information issue, though. Whatever regulations govern the DNR with respect to E. coli testing ought simply to require immediate public disclosure when levels are high. It doesn’t matter how or when reporters asked for the information – the DNR should be actively educating the public on the results. Why are they even testing if they aren’t going to alert the public when there is a problem?