Open move

1/31/2014

Bill would boost importance of government transparency.

Bill would boost importance of government transparency.

Governments have an obligation to do the public's business in the open. It's the law, after all.

But when elected officials or government staff members stray outside laws in place to ensure openness, they too often elude any meaningful sanctions.

The Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) and Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) exist to keep government open and accessible to all citizens. The open government laws give individuals the right to inspect public records — information at police stations and school district offices, for example — and gain access to places where public business is conducted, such as school board or city commission meetings.

Currently, anyone who suspects a violation of KOMA or KORA may file a civil lawsuit against the alleged offending parties, refer complaints to their local county attorney or go straight to the Kansas Attorney General.

It can be a confusing, and sometimes dead-end process as alleged infractions may be viewed in various ways — some taken seriously, and others not.

A bill introduced this session in the Kansas Legislature would address such shortcomings by forming a special two-person unit within the Kansas AG's office — an open government unit devoted solely to investigating KOMA and KORA complaints.

The proposed legislation also would establish an advisory group consisting of citizens, media members and possibly lawmakers to assist the open government unit.

The goal is to make sure the public's business is done in an open, transparent way. The measure would not only shore up inconsistencies in application of the law, but also identify areas of confusion across the state.

That could lead to better education on open meetings and records requirements when and where necessary.

Violations sometimes are not deliberate, but rather a lack of understanding of the law.

Elected officials who have nothing to hide should be eager to do their work in the open. Those who deliberately shut out the public should be held accountable.

The measure would motivate public officials to work harder to comply — to the advantage of all Kansans.

Lawmakers who believe in the public's right to know should find the plan easy to embrace.

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