Many people are intimidated at the thought of making public records requests and asking their public officials for the records that belong to them.
In the past, the task was left to journalists and reporters who fought hard for the records that would allow media outlets to stay competitive and scoop their rivals. Now, the mainstream media is controlled by corporations who are all to happy to rely on the government to give them only the information they think the people should to have. That task has been left to us, the people, the citizen journalists to keep our government in check and our public servants accountable.
Mike Rekart is one of “those people” who regularly video records himself making public records requests and shares information with everyone in an effort to educate and shine a light to how Missouri Sunshine Laws work. Rekart, a PINAC Researcher/Investigator, has been making public records requests since the summer of 2014. He says he started making requests after watching a YouTube video.
I happened across a YouTube video showing a St. Charles county officer giving a person a citation because he didn’t ‘Move over’ and cited §304.022. In the video this particular officer was backing up into a highway causing a dangerous situation, the citizen slowed down, but didn’t move over, the officer then quickly sped up, pulled over the citizen and cited him for not “moving over”. I was curious about this…so I called the police and started asking about it and was told to make a “sunshine request” for the information. That’s how it all started.
An update to the video shows the charges have since been dropped by the prosecutor.
That’s how it starts for many of us who believe in the importance of gathering public records and finding the truth for ourselves. Rekart set out to find the truth behind a video and made his first request to the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Office. Since that time, he has made hundreds of public record requests in Missouri alone and many more in states across the country. Rekart is relentless, and follows up on requests until he sees results. He says his greatest hurdle has been requests for records from out of state.
“Some states will not fulfill your request due to you not being a resident of that state, which is a sad situation, but it’s true.”
That doesn’t keep him from asking. It doesn’t keep him from relentlessly following up either.
Rekart joined the PINAC team in October. We met him while in Missouri covering the Ferguson protests and at that time he had gained permission from Tom Durkin, the Education Director of the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, allowing him to organize Public Records Workshops to help interested citizens and public servants better interpret Missouri’s Sunshine Laws. He video records the workshops and has posted them on his YouTube channel MissouriPublicRecord. He has also drafted an easy guide for making public records requests in Missouri.
It’s not necessary to be a loud mouth rabble rouser to keep your public servants accountable. Rekart is a quiet, easygoing guy, whose wife is tolerant of his passion. The two are raising four children, and Mike holds down a full time job in the travel industry. His job keeps him in front of a computer for most of the day and he uses his down time to make requests for records by email and to follow up on requests where he doesn’t receive a response. This is an important part of the process.
Being organized is one of the reasons Rekart is so effective at getting the documents he asks for. He makes his requests by email and always includes the date the request was sent in the subject line. He also CC’s himself in the email so that the requests can easily sorted for follow up if necessary. He files all of the completed requests in folders, naming them to correspond with the state and city the requests were sent. This is also an important step in keeping track of the hundreds of requests he makes.
He gone on to file a lawsuit, Pro Se, against the City of Wellston in Missouri for failure to follow Sunshine Laws. He is also drafting several other lawsuits to address other public entities who have also failed to follow the law. He says he filed the first lawsuit, “to help bring light into the darkness here in Missouri.”
Rekart has three important things to remember when making a public records request in Missouri:
- The identity and location of a public governmental body’s custodian is to be made available upon request. The first step in making a request if to find the records custodian who is in possession of the records you want. The entity must, by law, direct you to the custodian when you ask.
- Be professional and polite, remember it’s not our job to tell them how to do theirs.
- Always assume you are building a case to take to court. Document every email and request. You never know when you will need the documentation for litigation, if the public body fails to follow the law.
Currently Rekart is waiting for records relating to “Officer Go Fuck Yourself,” who you may remember from the Ferguson protests, pointing a loaded assault rifle into the crowd. Rekart has requested several records from the St Ann Police Department regarding a lawsuit filed against the officer by the Missouri Attorney General’s office. The St. Ann Police Department responded by demanding $300 for the records, one of the most common things public entities do to avoid their legal duties. The department also claims it is impossible to perform email searches of the email system the city uses.
It appears the police department of St. Ann is more concerned with collecting money than in providing records that are of a public interest. It might make them reconsider their opinion and be more transparent if they receive many requests for the same information, and this is where you can help by filing a public records request to the City of St. Ann for the same documents.
If you would like to make a request to the St. Ann Police Department for public records you can email the St. Ann City Administrator, Matt Conley at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can copy and paste the following records request:
Dear Mr. Conley,
This a public records request. Please, without delay, the following public interest documents:
1. A copy of any and all complaints regarding Officer Raymond Albers
2. The Date that Officer Raymond Albers graduated from the Academy,
3. a copy of all emails with the keyword search of “Raymond Albers”, or “Albers” starting in August 2014 to Current date.
4. A List of Raymond Albers Training.
5. A copy of his “Oath of Office” documentation.
6. The type of email system used by the City of St. Ann as well as St. Ann Police Department.
Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
You can CC Mike Rekart in on the email with this email address email@example.comYou can also call Matt Conley at (314)428-6801
Rekart welcomes questions from anyone in the Missouri area who is interested in making a records request, or help in gathering the public records you have already requested. His Facebook page can be found here. you can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org