The Garden City Telegram
1/3/2013
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Private talks

Violations point to need for mandatory training.

When an investigation revealed several Republican lawmakers violated an open meetings law, Kansans should have expected significant action as a way to prevent future missteps.

Instead, the lawmakers involved got a pass because it was determined there was no malicious intent, and they didn't understand the law — which in itself was inexcusable.

The Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) prohibits a majority of a legislative body from discussing government business without giving the public notice and access.

Early last year, Gov. Sam Brownback invited select lawmakers to the governor's mansion to discuss public business in private. Talks touched on taxes, Medicaid, school finance and the state budget.

A subsequent investigation by the Shawnee County district attorney's office pointed to "technical" violations of the open meetings law, and a recommendation that legislators receive more KOMA training.

Whether the inappropriate talks went on because legislators didn't know the open meetings law or simply didn't care, it was more proof of the need for mandatory training on a law in place to ensure the public's access to the workings of its government.

Moving into the next session, it at least was encouraging to learn a number of legislative leaders have signed up to learn more about KOMA. But not all in the Statehouse will do as much, unfortunately.

Elected officials in every level of government need training on open meetings and records. Those truly interested in serving their constituents' interests should want to understand and follow laws that require elected officials to conduct business in the open, and ensure that most government records are available to citizens.

Governments face many serious issues, all of which should be vetted in an open and transparent process. Private talks and efforts to withhold information only fuel skepticism at a time of growing distrust of government.

Knowing open government training always is available, ignorance is a poor yet common excuse when violations occur.

Kansans need their representatives to follow laws in place to ensure that public business is done in the open. To that end, every elected official should be required to undergo training on those important policies.