By Jon A. Brake
Have you heard the one about the 1975 Kansas Legislature passing the Kansas Open Meeting Act? Get IT?....Itís a joke.
All over the State of Kansas, City, County and School Board officials are meeting in secret, talking on the phone and e-mailing each other, without any concern for the citizens right to know, or the law that require openness in government.
The only recourse citizens have is to take open meetings violations to the County Attorney or the Kansas Attorney General.
Many people will not stop to pickup pocket change on the ground. To a County Attorney or the Kansas Attorney General an Open Meetings violation is nothing more than pocket change. Taken by themselves, open meetings violations are small change compared to Assault, Rape or Murder. But, open meeting violations are not just a single item. They are the way many conduct government business.
We have come a long way from the smoke filled back room, or have we?
The Manhattan School District dodged the Open Meeting Act last year when they had several staff Budget Committee meetings with all of the Board members present. The Riley County Attorney went to the County Commission asking for $30,000 to prosecute the Board for the violation. He ended up accepting a letter from the superintendent, which said "We didnít do it, and we will never do it again."
The school districtís promise did not last four months before three Board members attended a closed contract negotiation meeting without giving notice to the public. What did the County Attorney do? Nothing.
On March 27 the Board held a Special "Site Council Report" at the Ogden Grade School to hear reports on the Ogden and Marlatt Schools. The notice sent to the public said the Board would also "Approve Bills" because they would not met for several weeks.
After the meeting started the staff added two items: Changing the Ogden School into a Charter School and making the Principal at Ogden a half time position. Both items should have been presented at a regular School Board meeting.
The Riley County Commission called an executive session to talk with the County Council. The reason for the meeting was "Attorney-Client privilege", which is a reason for an executive session. But, in this case the Commissioners wanted to talk about using County Funds to finance a campaign for a half-cent sales tax. That is not a subject for an executive session.
One of the best quotes from an Attorney General Opinion is: "Just because an attorney is in the room does not mean it is Attorney-Client privilege."
The Manhattan City Commissioner discusses many, many agenda items before the meetings. They talk on the phone, e-mail each other and use the City staff to get information to make a decision before a meeting. All are against the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
The City uses e-mail to get information to the Commissioners all the time but when the Free Press asks for copies we were denied.
Two of the biggest items (Home Depot and Wal-Mart) to go before the Manhattan Area Planning Board were discussed before the meeting by members of the planning Board. At the meeting on Wal-Mart the Board took a "break" and three of the members huddled and worked out a motion to send the item to the City Commission.
The Kansas Open Meeting Act..is a joke.