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Missouri Attorney General seeks texts, emails about metro mask mandates

Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, wants to know what four Democratic executives in Missouri’s largest metro areas said in emails, texts and other communications about mask mandates to fight the spread of COVID-19.

His office said Friday seeking the records is part of Schmitt’s determination to fight “tyrannical government overreach.” A spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said Schmitt’s true goal was to “gain a little bit of clout” in the crowded Republican Senate primary field for 2022.

On Nov. 5, Schmitt sent an open records request to Jones seeking all her email, text and voicemail messages since July 1 with 34 other officials – St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, Jackson County Executive Frank White and the 28 members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

The final two names on the list are Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis, and Dr. Frederick Echols, commissioner of the St. Louis Health Department.

He made two other requests. 

Schmitt asked for communications with the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, the National Education Association, the Missouri School Boards Association, the National Federation of Independent Business and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. And he wants contracts for legal services signed since the start of 2019 and bills from law firms since Jan. 1.

The request was made public by the city on its public records archive, a posting of all requests received by the city. The Independent confirmed that similar requests were sent to Page, Lucas and White by inquiries to their offices.

Morgan Said, spokeswoman for Lucas, said the request is being processed in the city attorney’s office.

“Certainly the mayor does not think this is a good use of resources,” she said.

Schmitt is suing St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City and Jackson County over mask mandates imposed in July as the Delta variant surged through the state. The requests come as cases are starting to surge again, with daily new cases up more than 40 percent statewide since the start of the month.

Mask requirements remain in place in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The Jackson County Legislature voted Friday afternoon to end the requirement immediately. The mandate in Kansas City ended Nov. 5 except for schools and school buses.

The requests under Missouri’s Sunshine Law are in addition to any documents Schmitt’s office might obtain through demands for records in the lawsuits.

“This office has been committed to fighting against tyrannical government overreach,” a statement from Schmitt’s office said. “Whether it is through legal discovery or the sunshine process, we are seeking to uncover the truth about what science and decision making processes that the City of St. Louis and other local governments relied upon to implement the mask mandates and other restrictions.”

The records request for Jones’ communications is still being processed, said Nick Dunne, her spokesman. It will be handled like all other records requests, he said.

“He is running for the Senate,” Dunne said. “He is looking for clout and he is leveraging his position to give him perceived leverage for his Senate race. He is going to continue to waste state resources and everyone’s time on something that he thinks will gain a little bit of clout.”

Schmitt is competing against former Gov. Eric Greitens, U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, and St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey for the GOP nomination to replace U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.

Since Aug. 1, while the mask orders have been in effect, St. Louis and St. Louis County have lower per capita infection rates than the surrounding counties without mask mandates – St. Charles, Franklin and Jefferson – according to state Department of Health and Senior Services data.

Jackson County outside Kansas City, however, has a higher infection rate than Kansas City and adjoining counties. Kansas City’s per capita infection rate for the period is below Cass and Clay counties and above Platte County.

After leaving mitigation measures in the hands of local officials for most of the pandemic, Missouri lawmakers this year passed legislation that limits the authority and scope of public health orders aimed at curbing the spread of a contagious disease. That is the law Schmitt is  using to challenge local mask mandates.

Schmitt is also suing Columbia Public Schools over its classroom mask mandate. He lost the first major decision in the case, an effort to make it apply as a class action against all districts requiring students to wear masks during class time.

The Columbia Board of Education renewed the policy on Nov. 8. 

“This office will continue to use every legal tool at our disposal to safeguard the freedoms and liberty of every Missouri citizen,” the statement from Schmitt’s office read.

St. Louis County has prevailed over Schmitt in recent hearings but no final ruling on whether the new law covers mask orders has been issued in any of the lawsuits.

“We make all public health decisions based on advice from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, our Department of Public Health and other public health experts,” Doug Moore, spokesman for Page, wrote in an email. “It appears Mr. Schmitt is deeply committed to a political stunt. We are deeply committed to saving lives.”

This article by Rudi Keller is published from The Missouri Independent via a Creative Commons license.

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