To the editor:
The primary weakness of most organizations is poor communication, especially not sharing specific information upon which a host of decisions are made.
Imagine relying on an individual to supply you with information about your group, but having that individual cherry pick information so that you don’t get the full picture.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a letter to the editor about a proposed project in northern Leavenworth that one elected official claimed was bogus because he had never heard about it from a certain city official. Imagine my surprise when sources from Fort Leavenworth confirmed parts of the rumor for me.
I’ve had personal dealings with the official who was supposed to provide complete information about such up and coming projects for the city of Leavenworth to USD 453, and he insisted I was wrong and he was right, even though I had evidence that I supplied to the city commission to prove him wrong.
One thing I had asked this individual for was information that would confirm that my letters to the editor had made more citizens aware of the indoor pool at the community center by confirming an increase in the number of requests for private swimming lessons. He told me I would have to fill out a form with the city clerk to obtain such information, which I then did.
What happens to a city that makes obtaining public information difficult for the average citizen?
I ask because I filled out the form and the city clerk was willing to “run” the information for me but wanted to charge me $20 an hour for the information.
I pay taxes in Leavenworth – from sales taxes, because I prefer to buy local, to property taxes for my home and automobiles. In essence, I help pay for the city clerk and her staff’s salaries. Having her staff compile public information for me should only take a matter of minutes, given the speed and accuracy of a typical city’s database processes.
So why am I being asked to pay an additional $20 per hour to them to provide me with information that is supposed to be public?
Now, I can see paying for copies of legal documents, such as marriage licenses, birth and death certificates or property liens because, even though they are not always considered legal, they are copies of original documents.
But why should Leavenworth residents who pay the salaries of the staff members of city offices have to pay anything for acquiring public information from the city?
I can understand if the fees, which, according to the city clerk, have been in place since 1984 (at $20 per hour, no less), were implemented to deter information-happy requesters from asking for random and unnecessary information multiple times a year, which was probably very inconvenient pre-internet. But why didn’t the city create a system wherein the first three requests are free for citizens, but charged thereafter? And why is the city still charging money for information we should be able to search for on the internet now?
I hereby ask the Leavenworth Times to dedicate a reporter to investigate and analyze how much revenue has been generated by these public information fees, to determine whether these fees genuinely are necessary or whether they merely deter more frugal or poorer citizens from inquiring into our city’s affairs. This investigation will necessitate comparing how many such requests were made prior to 1984 (there had to be a reason for the fees) and how many requests have been made since, as well as examining how much revenue these fees have created for the city.
After all, if very little revenue is being made because very few requests are being made, what’s the point of the fees?
While KORA allows cities in Kansas to charge fees for public information, many cities only charge for physical copies of legal documents and permit applications. However, the data I am asking for should be regularly reported to the city commission, possibly to the county commission as well as the state of Kansas, so why aren’t these records publicly available to all residents to view at any time online?
The internet went into full swing in the early 1990s, and most government documents are kept in online databases, so the Leavenworth City Commission should seriously consider how best to use these flexible mediums to better keep its citizens informed, even if all we want to know is how much revenue the city earns from its indoor pool.
An open, honest government is necessary for democracy to thrive or for any group to work cooperatively. A government that isn’t open has someone in it who wants things hidden for a reason.