Can newspaper see surveillance videos from outside Gov. Nixon's office?
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 7, 2009 -Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says that a Springfield newspaper should be able to see surveillance videos from outside Gov. Jay Nixon's office, as part of its inquiry into whether Nixon knew of E. coli contamination of the Lake of the Ozarks earlier than he claims.
The Missouri Capitol Police Agency, which is in charge of the governor's security, turned down the Springfield News-Leader's request to see the tapes, citing a terrorism exception to the Sunshine Law . The newspaper has appealed to the Capitol Police's parent agency, the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
The News-Leader reported that Koster told reporters after a news conference on Thursday that "there probably is some middle ground where the concerns of the Capitol Police and the importance of open government can be achieved."
Koster told a News-Leader reporter, "It doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility that you personally could go and sit down and review the tapes inside the Capitol Police environment and achieve your goal without conflicting with their goal."
The newspaper has requested video from two cameras aimed at public entrances to Nixon's second-floor office in the Capitol. The paper has said it does not plan to broadcast the video. It wants to determine whether Nixon met with a state official who apparently knew about the E. coli contamination in earlier June, weeks before it was disclosed.
In July, the newspaper obtained emails indicating that former Department of Natural Resources Deputy Director Joe Bindbeutel sought a report on the high levels of E. coli to take a meeting in the governor's office on June 4. Nixon's office says the meeting did not occur and that the governor did not know about the contamination of the lake until several weeks later, at about the time it was publicly disclosed.
The News-Leader editorially ridiculed the use of the terrorism exception of the Sunshine law to deny access to the videos. The paper also quoted legislators involved in enacting the terrorism exception who said it never was intended to shut off access to this kind of video. Instead, it was intended to protect against disclosure of information such as blueprints of power plants that could be useful to terrorists.
Both Koster and Nixon are Democrats. The attorney general is in charge of enforcement of the Sunshine Law.