I miss the Blue Book.
That’s not it’s formal title. The official title is “The Official Manual State of Missouri.”
Every two years around this time, statehouse folks anxiously awaited release of the manual by the Secretary of State.
It contained hundreds of pages of official state information. Government workers were obsessed with the book because it contained the salary of every state government employee. You could find out how much your colleague was making.
It also contained election results, short descriptions about the functions of various agencies, a list of all of Missouri’s city and county elected officials, local party committees and much, much more. Even members of the statehouse press corps were listed.
It was a go-to document for reporters and historians.
It was called the “Blue Book” because for decades it was bound in a dark blue cover — dozens upon dozens of volumes published every two years by the Secretary of State.
But in 1967, Secretary of State Jim Kirkpatrick messed up the color harmony.
For reasons I don’t recall, Kirkpatrick decided to bound the book in a light blue cover rather than the traditional dark blue.
Two years later, Kirkpatrick went even further, he published it in green. It was in recognition of his Irish heritage.
But there was a problem. Kirkpatrick did not have an Irish heritage. “Not a drop of Irish blood,” one of his long-time staffers confessed to me recently.
Kirkpatrick was not really devious about it. To anyone who asked, he would admit that his heritage really was Scottish, not Irish.
But that did not stop Kirkpatrick. Five more “Blue Books” were to be bound in green. In between, he bound one volume in black and gold, in recognition of the University of Missouri. Then he published the 1976-1977 volume in a cover of red, white and blue to recognize the nation’s bicentennial.
Kirkpatrick had been a newspaper publisher. And he clearly loved his responsibility for publishing the state’s official manual. And like any good newspaper person, he sought to make the cover a topic of conversation.
He was a jovial, delightful character. I still vividly remember his laughter when I talked with him about the complaints I heard from a lawyer that his near-rainbow set of colors for the manuals had messed up the color continuity of his bookshelf.
Kirkpatrick’s successor, Roy Blunt, returned to the traditional dark blue.
But the tradition got broken again just a few volumes later. In 1993, Missouri’s first female Secretary of State, Judy Moriarty, bound the book in pink as a statement about the expanding role of women in government.
Two years later, Moriarty got impeached and tossed out by the state Supreme Court for illegal actions involving registration of her son for a legislative race.
Her replacement returned to the traditional dark blue that remained until the printed manual was killed by the legislature, which voted to move the manual from a printed book to the Secretary of State’s online website.
Missouri’s last Official Manual was published in 2009.
The demise of the “Blue Book” relates to a concern raised by a friend of mine who had been the Senate’s research director and later a professor of public administration.
David Valentine is concerned that when printed government documents like the “Blue Book” are moved to Web-based digital records, there is no guarantee that future politicians will continue to maintain public access or provide easy-to-find links.
In fact, as I write this, there is not an obvious link on the Secretary of State’s site to election results prior to the November 2012 elections.
When documents are printed, they can get stored by libraries across the state. That provides assurance of a document’s preservation independent of the comings and goings of elected politicians who may have political interests in not making some information easy to find.
Even if the information is available on the Web, some government websites come across as designed more for show than substance. For example, the Office of Administration’s site of government meetings is nearly useless since it does not contain the agenda of the meetings nor any link to get the agendas.
A related problem involves the format being used. Quite a few Missouri government documents are in proprietary formats that are difficult to search and from which it’s a nightmare to extract data.
But, I’ll confess, my sense of loss for the Blue Book has a more personal aspect. As I look at the main bookshelf in my newsroom, there is a sadness that there never will be an addition to the line of blue volumes, interrupted by Kirkpatrick’s rainbow and Moriarity pink.
I miss the Blue Book. R.I.P., “Blue Book,” you’re missed by many of we statehouse long-timers.