Posts Tagged ‘Kansas Open Meetings Act’

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.

Eudora Representative Anthony Brown and three other legislators ask Attorney General Steve Six for opinion on open meetings law

Friday, September 4th, 2009

From State Representative Anthony Brown, a Republican from Eudora, KS.

For Immediate Release

September 2, 2009

For Information Contact

Representative Anthony Brown 785/542-2293

Representative Brown Asks AG for Open Meeting Opinion

Topeka – Representative Anthony Brown (R-Eudora), along with a bi-partisan group of legislators, has sent a letter to the Attorney General asking for an opinion on the Kansas Open Meeting Act.

“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,” said Representative Brown.

Currently, there is concern that exemptions within the Act are being abused and budget related discussions are occurring during closed meetings under the guise of personnel discussions.

“The citizens of Kansas should have every opportunity to be heard in discussions that involve the spending of tax dollars,” continued Representative Brown.  “I fully expect the Attorney General to agree that Transparency is critical in maintaining trust in any governing body.”

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Kaw and Border: Dewey, Cheatem, and (Steve) Howe?

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

Kaw and Border:

In fact, according to today’s article in the Star by Jim Sullinger, the board’s attorney, Mark Ferguson, told the board in March that no violation occurred because the budget reduction list was presented to the board during an evaluation of Calaway.

Is this seriously their new defense?…

Steve Howe by all accounts is doing a good job. But, he is a politician like the rest of them and he was elected on a coalition that included some of these country club types that permeate the board. One can only guess that these folks would simply like this issue to go away, and for Howe to, in his opinion, rule that no violation occurred, vindicating their secret meetings and as such, their post-offense ridiculous exchanges with Hodge. To put it simply, they are assuredly all hoping D.A. Howe squashes that annoying wasp once and for all.

Of course, not all feel that way and that includes this blog. Even if the original violation was minor, there is no doubt, if the Kansas Open Meetings Act is to have any validity, that the JCCC Board of Trustees, by presenting budget information in an executive session, and by coordinating efforts in private in a letter to the Star, violated that law — both in word and in spirit.

As noted earlier, what’s the entire point of having such a law if BUDGET discussions are going to be held in private?

Kansas City Star in print edition covers likely open meetings violation at JCCC

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

Jim Sullinger:  “Legal opinion sought on alleged JCCC meeting violations”

Benjamin Hodge, a member of the Johnson County Community College board of trustees, has wondered for weeks whether the board violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act on two separate occasions.

He has raised the speculation at board meetings and on his Johnson County blog site on www.redcounty.com.

His assumptions are now being put to a legal test. He has asked Steve Howe, Johnson County’s district attorney, for a formal legal opinion on these issues.

JCCC leaders face District Attorney review of open meetings law

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

On Friday, JCCC Trustee Benjamin Hodge filed with Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe a detailed summary of two likely violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act at Johnson County Community College.  District Attorney Howe is not required to investigate the request, but Hodge says he would be surprised if a formal review is not performed.

Here is a link to the 106-page document (PDF) that is now filed with the district attorney’s office.

At RedCounty.com, Trustee Hodge writes that included in the formal KOMA complaint is the detailed 64-item budget list that President Calaway chose to share during a closed meeting, and that Calaway claims should be considered part of his own job evaluation.  Hodge writes:

I encourage readers to look at the 64 items on the list, on page 102.  Is this the type of information that closely relates to Terry Calaway’s private job evaluation?  I don’t think so, and neither does The Kansas City Star nor The Kansas Press Association.  This is budget information, information that the Kansas Open Meetings Act requires be discussed during an open session.

JCCC Campus Ledger provides update on cover-up and waste

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

The JCCC Campus Ledger covers the continued cover-up and dishonesty by JCCC leaders Terry Calaway, Shirley Brown-VanArsdale, and Lynn Mitchelson, that began as a relatively small likely violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA).  Here are facts made known in the Ledger that were previously unreported in a print publication:

  • Because of JCCC’s dishonesty and the use of taxpayer money to mislead and intimidate, Hodge called for Mitchelson and Brown-VanArsdale to resign from positions of leadership at JCCC, and for Mitchelson to resign as a representative to the Johnson County Research Triangle (JCRT).
  • JCCC attorney Mark Ferguson misled the public at the March meeting by stating that he performed a “complete review” of the February 19 board meeting (the meeting at which occurred a likely violation of the law).  The Ledger reports that Ferguson, as part of the “complete review,” not only did not talk with Trustee Benjamin Hodge — who initially reported the open meetings problems — but did not even make Hodge aware that Ferguson was performing an investigation.  Keep in mind that Ferguson does not represent Calaway, but the college — which is the board.  Ferguson is Hodge’s client, and Ferguson — at the request of a politically-motivated Calaway — unprofessionally performed a misleading, incomplete, and probably pre-determined review without informing Hodge that it was taking place.  Ferguson also is for the first time ever competing for his own job in a mere two months, and the attorney knows that Hodge is among the least likely to renew his contract.
  • In recent months, as part of JCCC’s monthly post-meeting Email summary, marketing director Julia Haas — who reports directly to President Calaway — included in the Email the endorsements of the faculty NEA (the membership of which constitutes under 5% of employees).  But in last week’s Email summary after the April board meeting, Haas refused to include Hodge’s public statements regarding the dishonest and intimidating behavior of President Calaway.  Haas provides her own misleading reply to The Ledger as she tries to dodge her inconsistent behavior:
    • “The summary does not give opinion and does not comment, it simply reports things happening,” Haas said. “If you look at the budget report, there is a lot more discussion than what is put in the summary.”

JCCC’s Arrogance and Wednesday’s Tea Parties: Christopher Berger

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Christopher D. Berger
UnvarnishedOpinion.com
KansasProgress.com

Wednesday’s tax day tea parties had a cause mirroring those of the original Boston tea party, to whit, a government so invasive and unwieldy that it can perpetrate generational theft on the order of tens of trillions of dollars, with no one to stop them. They were there to demonstrate against the ability of government to tax our grandchildren into oblivion, and more importantly, the fact that government is effectively doing it with mind-numbingly large spending packages. They were there to protest taxation with representation that doesn’t listen to them, representation that doesn’t represent their interests, taxation that they don’t want, don’t need, and will be forced to pay anyway. (more…)

Terry Calaway’s ‘lame excuses’: Kaw and Border

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

The area blog Kaw and Border on JCCC President Terry Calaway, Board Chair Shirley Brown-VanArsdale, and Vice chair Lynn Mitchelson:

Ben has worked very hard to bring transparency and openness to the JCCC Board of Trustees. Unfortunately, as Yael Abouhalkah (of all people) at the Kansas City Star recently editorialized, the JCCC Board and President (outside of Hodge) have been conducting meetings in secret in violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Ben didn’t like that and as a result, has been lableled a nuisance by Steve Rose. One would think that Steve Rose, whose name is synonymous with Johnson County’s long time suburban newspaper, the Johnson County Sun, would appreciate Ben’s efforts at upholding a state law that even The Star had to correct the college on, as Ben describes on RedCounty.com here.

Of course, JCCC President Calaway and the other 5 establishment board members have tried to come up with lame excuses for their secrecy, as described in this recent article in the Gardner News, that apparently KOMA doesn’t apply to written documents, just verbal communication. Right.

Not only that, they subsequently violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act back in November as well when four of the board members, a majority, wrote a letter to The Star discussing Ben’s claims in his own letter to The Star regarding the board’s possibility of raising the mill levy. Problem is, having four people sign a letter was a violation of KOMA as well. Ben discusses these issues at length here.

Star covers open meetings issue at JCCC

Monday, March 9th, 2009

A more-or-less fair article by Jim Sullinger.  The article doesn’t make absolutely clear that Trustee Benjamin Hodge did not ask for budget detail during executive session.  It says: “Shortly before Calaway’s job performance evaluation, trustee Benjamin Hodge asked Calaway how he would address the declining revenue picture without raising taxes.”  In actuality, it was days before that Hodge had asked for detail on budget plans.

The story became a larger issue after JCCC President Dr. Terry Calaway criticized Hodge for releasing budget information, criticized Sullinger’s reporting, and attempted to publicly justify a very broad — some say illegal — interpretation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

Mike Merriam, an attorney for the Kansas Press Association and an expert on the open meetings act, said Friday that bringing up the budget material under the personnel exception was inappropriate in his opinion.

“These budget issues should not have been discussed as part of the evaluation,” he said, adding that the topics should have been handled separately.

The Kansas attorney general has said that meetings can be closed to discuss personnel only when the discussion applies to individuals, rather than groups that might be affected by a policy.

One week after the meeting, Hodge released the list at the request of a reporter for The Kansas City Star. Its existence and some of its contents were reported in the Prime Buzz section of the newspaper’s Web site.

Calaway then sent an e-mail to the college staff criticizing the release of the list.

Hodge said the list focused on pending budget issues and should be shared with the public.

Sullinger: Hodge replies to JCCC’s Calaway

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

The Star:

Hodge replies to JCCC’s Calaway

Benjamin Hodge, a member of the Johnson County Community College board of trustees, came under fire this week for releasing a copy of budget reductions under consideration for next year.

Benjamin HodgeBenjamin HodgeThe list of more than 50 items was given to the board of trustees recently during an executive session that was called under a personnel exemption in the Kansas Open Meeting Law.

Hodge’s release of the list to a reporter for Prime Buzz drew a sharp rebuke from Terry Calaway, the college’s president.

Here is Hodge’s response:

“Where the First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor.”– US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the 5-4 majority in the June 2007 decision FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, which declared unconstitutional a portion of the federal law known as “McCain-Feingold”

There is a law called the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA).

One premise for KOMA is that it is more important to protect citizens from government than it is to protect government from its citizens.  If one side should be on the defensive, it should be government:  Government should fear its citizens, not the other way around.  Another premise for KOMA is that humans are flawed and easily corruptible; we are at our best when held accountable. (more…)