Archive for Thursday, March 17, 2005

Let the sun shine

March 17, 2005

Spring is nearly upon us. We're reminded of that fact each morning when the sun starts shining earlier and earlier in our homes. We're reminded of it each evening when the sun sticks around a little longer than the previous day.

The extra sunshine is a welcome contrast to the short, dark days of winter. It gives us a little extra kick in our step, makes us feel better about ourselves.

So, too, should a little more sun shine in our government.

This week is national Sunshine Week, an effort of the American Society of Newspaper Editors to bring more openness into government. It also serves as a reminder to the public at large that democracy works best out in the open.

The Kansas Open Meetings Act begins with this sentence: "In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the policy of this state that meetings for the conduct of governmental affairs and the transaction of governmental business be open to the public." Now that's sunshine!

But, alas, it's not always so.

In the years since the state's Open Meetings and Open Records acts were adopted, the Legislature has added exemptions that effectively cut the public off from the public's business.

It took a lengthy - and costly - court battle to get the state's largest university to hand over to the public provisions of its contract with its athletic director. The university claimed state law "clearly and unambiguously" allowed government agencies to refuse access to personnel records. A judge saw differently.

The exercise drove the Kansas Senate this legislative session to adopt the so-called "Lew Perkins Provision" to the Open Records Act. The legislation, which awaits action in the House, requires full disclosure of any public employee's total compensation. We encourage the House to quickly adopt the provision.

The state's attorney general - the top law enforcement officer in Kansas and a friend of open government - admitted to meeting behind closed doors with the conservative majority on the State Board of Education. Phill Kline insists the meetings were legal. It may be under the letter of the law, but it certainly isn't adhering to the spirit of the law. We encourage Kline, especially in his position, to be more aware of his actions.

Closer to home, Lansing City Council and Lansing School Board show no hint they aren't adhering to the state's sunshine laws. We encourage them to continue to do so.

The city of Lansing, USD 469 and other public agencies have been accommodating in meeting requests for public information from those of us at The Current. We trust they do the same with members of the general public.

Those who watch democracy in action know it's not always a pretty sight. But at least when the sun shines on it, we can see for ourselves what's going on.


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