JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway called out Republican Gov. Mike Parson Thursday over his office's handling of open-records requests, as the two gubernatorial contenders tried to paint themselves as transparent leaders.
Galloway and Parson spoke in separate remarks during the annual Missouri Press Association and The Associated Press Day at the Capitol.
Without mentioning Parson by name, Galloway criticized his administration for citing the First Amendment in redacting from Sunshine requests identifying information of private citizens who contact the governor's office.
The governor's office has argued that citizens would not contact elected officials if they believed information like email addresses and phone numbers could become public. Transparency advocates argue that withholding the information violates the state's open records laws and could shield lobbyists and other special interests from public scrutiny.
After Galloway requested a formal opinion on the issue last year, Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt in August directed Parson's office not to use the First Amendment to justify those redactions.
"The tone from the top really does matter and sets an example for everyone else in public service," Galloway said.
When asked whether he still supports that stance on record requests, Parson told reporters and editors gathered in the Governor's Mansion that he would be "much more comfortable with general counsel's answer on that."
While saying he's committed to openness, he said some information still should be withheld to protect privacy.
"If there's information that shouldn't be released to the public, I would probably be the first to say maybe we didn't need to," Parson said.
The governor also downplayed Galloway's remarks as expected as the two prepare to face off before voters this November.
"We're in a political arena, and she's going to try to point out things about me, and that's just the way this is going to be," Parson said. "But the reality of it is, I feel like we're as open as we can possibly be."
Galloway on Thursday also called on lawmakers to pass a law banning officials from using message-deleting apps, such as Confide, while conducting public business.
The smartphone application came under scrutiny after the Kansas City Star reported in 2017 that former Republican Gov. Eric Greitens and his senior staff were using it, which alarmed government transparency advocates.
Greitens resigned in 2018 amid allegations of sexual misconduct and campaign violations as he battled mounting legal bills and the pressures of defending against possible impeachment and a criminal trial. Parson, who had been serving as lieutenant governor, assumed leadership after Greitens left.
"In the wake of the scandals and then ultimate resignation of Gov. Greitens, there was a lot of talk about making changes to government," Galloway said. "But there have not been fundamental changes in terms of policy in our state."
She said adopting a law banning elected officials from using message-deleting apps would be a step in that direction.