Archive for July 15th, 2009

Editorial — Steve Howe and Terry Calaway vs. Everybody else; Hodge on open meetings opinion: “It gives me great confidence in going forward that virtually nobody of significance has agreed with what DA Steve Howe today writes.”

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

On Wednesday, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe made the Kansas Open Meetings Act a meaningless law.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Howe released to former Johnson County Community College Trustee Benjamin Hodge the DA’s official opinion on two Kansas Open Meetings Act violation allegations that Hodge had made toward JCCC.  One of the allegations concerned a serial meetings violation (where a majority of a local goverenment’s elected officials end up communicating about government business, over the course of a series of meetings that each involve a smaller number of politicians), and the other involved the the discussion of general budget-related information during a closed “executive” session.  Two documents:

  1. The April 2009 formal request for review of two allegations of KOMA violations from Benjamin Hodge, former Kansas Representative and JCCC Trustee (PDF).
  2. The official opinion from Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe (PDF),  released Wednesday, July 15, 2009.
The results of the opinion from DA Howe, if it stands:
  • Serial meetings concerning virtually any government-related business MAY occur (and involving a majority of a local government’s elected officials), provided that there is not an agreement to later VOTE in a certain manner.
  • During a closed, in-person meeting involving a majority of the politicians, general discussions on the budget MAY occur, provided that either:
    • 1.  A portion of the closed meeting involves a job evaluation of a specific government employee; or,
    • 2.  If, at least once, only the name of any specific government employee is referenced, in any context.
There are only two options now, for those who wish to require local governments to discuss public business only during meetings that are well-announced and open to the public:
  1. In ruling on behalf of JCCC President Terry Calaway, either DA Steve Howe knows something the rest of us don’t, and virtually everybody else has been incorrect with regard to understanding the current language of the Kansas Open Meetings Act:  The Kansas City Star, The Kansas Press Association, legislators, and nation-wide open meetings expert and attorney Mike Merriam.  If this is the case, then the entire law needs to be re-examined and re-written.
  2. Or, Steve Howe is wrong, and there needs to be a different opinion issued from a higher authority.
Below is an initial reaction that Hodge Emailed Wednesday evening: (more…)