FOREWORD

Open Records.

Mississippi as early as 1941 recognized a right to inspect and copy public records such as land title records. The requester was not required to show a special interest in the records. Logan v. Mississippi Abstract Co., 190 Miss. 479, 200 So. 716 (1941) (interpreting what is now Miss. Code Ann. § 9-5-169). See also W. T. Rawleigh Co. v. Hester, 190 Miss. 329, 200 So. 250, 254 (Miss. 1941) (right to inspect public records in sheriffs office); Pollard v. State, 205 So. 2d 286, 288 (Miss. 1967) (records of circuit and chancery clerks are public documents); In re Coleman, 208 F. Supp. 199, 201 (S.D. Miss. 1962), affd. 313 F.2d 867 (5th Cir. 1963) ("the right of free examination of official records is the rule").

It was not until 1983, however, that Mississippi adopted a generally applicable public records statute, now codified as § 25-61-1 et seq. There is no official legislative history, other than the record of votes and proposed amendments in the legislative journals. In the first decision by the Mississippi Supreme Court construing the Act, the court relied in part on the title of the bill in the session laws. Quoting from the title, the court held that the Act covered "records of all public bodies of government," even driver's license name lists formerly sold at a profit by the state. Roberts v. Miss. Republican Party State Executive Comm., 465 So. 2d 1050 (Miss. 1985). The Mississippi statute is not modeled on the records act of any other state.

Because the Act has not received very much judicial attention, the primary guides to its interpretation are the opinions of the state attorney general. These opinions are not formally published but are available on Westlaw. Also, the Act authorizes agencies affected to promulgate "reasonable written procedures concerning the cost, time, place and method of access" to records, § 25-61-5(1).  Any doubt about the disclosure of the requested information should be resolved in favor of disclosure.  Harrison County Development Comm’n v. Kinney, 920 So. 2d 497 (Miss. 2006).

Since passage of the 1983 Act, the legislature has steadily eroded its coverage by the adoption of exemptions. These include exemptions for medical examiner reports, § 41-61-63, and for case files of the Workers' Compensation Commission, § 71-3-66. In general, the press has failed to monitor the legislative process closely enough to mount any effective opposition to these exemptions. The legislature has scattered exemptions throughout the code. They are not codified with the Act, which has made them less visible.

In 1996, Mississippi joined those states which have updated their public records laws for the electronic age. The law gives members of the public the right to request electronic records in electronic formats. The law also forbids public agencies from contracting for information services unless the public also can access information provided by those services. However, the law does add exemptions to the Public Records Act for various forms of proprietary software. See § 25-61-1, -2, -10.

Open Meetings.

Mississippi first adopted an open meetings law in 1975. As originally enacted, the law permitted closed meetings for any reason so long as certain procedures were followed. In 1981, the legislature strengthened the law by limiting executive sessions to matters falling within one of 11 statutory exemptions. 1981 Miss. Laws, ch. 456. In 1990, the legislature changed the definition of "personnel matter" and added new notice requirements. 1990 Miss. Laws, ch. 541. The exemptions are in some respects similar to exemptions adopted previously in Louisiana. Compare Miss. Code Ann. § 25-41-7(4) to La. Rev. Stat. 42:6.1 (West Supp. 1990). There is no official legislative history of either the 1975, 1981, or 1990 bills. All that is available is the record of votes and proposed amendments in the session laws.

The Act contains a strong statement of policy which has guided the courts in interpreting the Act:

It being essential to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government and to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner, and that citizens be advised of and be aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the State of Mississippi that the formation and determination of public policy is public business and shall be conducted at open meetings except as otherwise provided herein.

The Mississippi Supreme Court has said, "However inconvenient openness may be to some, it is the legislatively decreed public policy of this state." Mayor and Aldermen v. Vicksburg Printing & Publishing Co., 434 So. 2d 1333, 1336 (Miss. 1983), followed in Board of Trustees v. Miss. Publishers Corp., 478 So. 2d 269 (Miss. 1985).

The Act sweeps broadly. A meeting is an "assemblage of members of a public body at which official acts may be taken," § 25-41-3(b) (Supp. 2000). "Official acts" includes deliberations, and is not limited to voting. Board of Trustees v. Mississippi Publishers Corporation, 478 So. 2d 269, 278 (Miss. 1985). Problem areas are the "personnel" exemption, § 25-41-7(4) (a), and the failure of the Act to provide attorney fees to successful plaintiffs. Also, violation of the Act is not grounds for setting aside actions taken during a closed meeting. Shipman v. North Panola Consolidated School District, 641 So. 2d 1106 (Miss. 1994). See also Citizens for Equal Property Rights v. Board of Supervisors of Lowndes Co., 730 So. 2d 1141, 1144 (Miss.)

Any rules or regulations of public bodies governing public access should be no more restrictive than the access afforded by the state public records and open meetings laws.  State Oil & Gas Bd. v. McGowan, 542 So. 2d 244 (Miss. 1989).