Archive for September 13th, 2009

Editorial — Enforcement of laws governing open meetings for local government: Kansas House Republican leaders Mike O’Neal, Lance Kinzer weigh in

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

At RedCounty.com, Benjamin Hodge writes:

Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal (R-Hutchinson) and House Judiciary Chairman Lance Kinzer (R-Olathe) said that under a correct interpretation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, local governments should not be allowed to use personnel exemptions to have intentional, detailed budget discussions during closed meetings that involve the majority of elected officials.

Kansans are now waiting to hear the opinion of the attorney general.

On September 4, I wrote about the bi-partisan coalition that requested a legal opinion on the Kansas Open Meetings Act from Kansas Attorney General Steve Six.  A Democrat, Six was appointed by Governor Kathleen Sebelius after Paul Morrison resigned.  In 2010, Six will run for his first state-wide election.

Paul Soutar, with the Wichita-based Flint Hills Center for Public Policy, reported that AG Six has agreed to issue an opinion, to be released in a matter of weeks.

Kansas Attorney General Steve Six will issue an opinion on potential abuses of an exemption to the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) to hide budget discussions from the public.

An August 21 letter signed by a bipartisan group of four legislators asks Six for his opinion on the correct interpretation of an exemption to KOMA allowing closed or executive sessions to discuss personnel matters of non-elected personnel.

Representative Anthony Brown (R-Eudora), in a Sept. 2 press release, said, “I am asking the Attorney General to offer an opinion that opposes any and all efforts to have detailed discussions about taxation or any government entity’s budget, when the discussions are both closed to the public and involve a majority of elected officials.”

Brown said he expects the Attorney General to “agree that transparency is critical in maintaining trust in any governing body.”

In a phone interview Friday, Sept. 5, Brown said he believes some local government officials are abusing KOMA exemptions intended to protect privacy in personnel matters to conduct budget discussions outside the public view.

Brown laid out a hypothetical situation he believes happens in Kansas. “Let’s say our City commission wants to talk about raising taxes or fees and they want to do it behind closed doors. So the pretense is, ‘Lets talk about our city manager and his role, that’s a personnel decision.’”

Brown said about 45 minutes after issuing his press release someone from Leavenworth contacted him with information about similar behavior by commission members. From January 2007 to June 2008 at least two dozen complaints pertaining to executive sessions were filed with the Kansas attorney general’s office or county attorneys.

Pictures: Rep Kinzer on left; Speaker O’Neal on right.