KC Star fights curators for access to audits

MISSOURI -- A state circuit judge denied a newspaper's request in May for immediate disclosure of the University of Missouri System's internal audits.

The Kansas City Star filed a lawsuit against the system's board of curators in 1998 after the board rejected requests for the records, which include all financial, operational, compliance and investigative audits.

Although Circuit Judge Frank Conley refused the Star's request in May, he said that it was a proper subject for an evidentiary hearing. As the Report went to press, no date had been set for the hearing.

The board claims that the records fall under exemptions to the state sunshine law, citing a 1983 court case involving the system and the Columbia Daily Tribune, in which the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that a Tribune reporter should have been able to attend a board of curators meeting that took place at a curator-owned hotel, but that some things discussed at the meeting were not public record.

Since then, the state system has maintained that internal audits are not public records.

'The Star's request was denied on the basis of the earlier 1983 Tribune decision saying that the University of Missouri was not a public governmental body,' said Sam Colville, the Star's attorney. 'So the lawsuit was filed saying that we do believe we are entitled to those records, and we believe that the university is a public governmental body by reason of the amendments that have been made to the definition.'

A December ruling by Conley said the university's internal audits are public records under the state open-records law, but the decision did not specify whether some audits could be considered exempt under provisions of the law.

The university is also facing a lawsuit for refusing to disclose campus crime information.

WDAF, a Fox network affiliate, sued the university in January 2000 for not releasing information about incidents that occurred on University of Missouri campuses between 1996 and 1999.

According to WDAF attorney Jean Maneke, the university refused to provide the information because it claims that although its board of curators is a governmental body, the school itself is not.

University of Missouri attorney Philip Hoskins refused to comment on both cases.

Fall 2001, reports