Taking Tattlers Public
Article from For Liberty by Norm Leahy.
You may have heard it when you were a kid: “no one likes a tattle-tale.” As some Missouri residents discovered after they contacted tip lines telling authorities about businesses violating shutdown orders, the admonition against tattling is still very much in force:
Scores of Missourians who tipped off county authorities that local businesses had violated COVID-19 lockdown requirements in March and April are now worried about being publicly shamed after their names and addresses were published on Facebook.
Jared Totsch, who shared the names on his Facebook page on April 16 after obtaining the list of 900 complainants from St. Louis County official under Missouri’s Sunshine Law, said on his Facebook page that tipsters should have realized their information could be made public…
Local authorities urged residents to use the tip line to report businesses breaking the shutdown orders, which lead to a number of citations being written.
What local officials failed to mention was state law made these tips public records:
A disclaimer that form submitters had to acknowledge before sending says, “I have been advised that this form and any other communication may be considered an open record pursuant to the Sunshine Law, Chapter 610 RSMo. St. Louis County may be required to release this form as well as other communications as a matter of law upon request by any member of the public, including the media.”
The desire to “name and shame” – whether it’s tattling to the state, or ratting out the tattlers – achieves little except to make both sides angrier.
And one possible outcome of this incident? The state may make it harder for anyone to get public records, regardless of the topic or intent. That would be bad for everyone.
Image Credit: By St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons