Last week, we wrote about the importance of transparency in government, and the important role played by open records law. This week, we have mixed progress to report — some most heartening and some rather distressing.
We’ll start with the good news first. According to Charles Rankin, of the Salina Journal: “The Salina City Commission decided to self-report to the Kansas Attorney General’s Office a violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act.”
Apparently, “It appears that some … who have requested notices from the city about official meetings were not sent a notification” about a special meeting. After complaints, the city commissioners consulted with their attorney and decided to self report.
This is exceptionally heartening news. Although, yes, it was prompted by citizen complaints, we see a public board acting in the interests of the public. Salina commissioners were willing to step up and face the music. They were willing to put the right of their constituents to know about meeting times ahead of quibbling or stonewalling.
They should be commended for doing so.
On the bad news side, sadly, we once again see the city of Frontenac. Following a blockbuster, unexpected vote to fire city administrator Brad Reams, city attorney Tim Fielder and city clerk Terri Kutz (and the subsequent resignation of mayor Linda Grilz), the Pittsburg Morning Sun went looking for answers.
It requested “All electronic and written communications, including but not limited to letters, text messages and emails, sent to or from Frontenac City Council members ... for the period Monday, August 26, 2019 to Tuesday, September 17, 2019.”
The city’s response? Nope. Can’t do it.
“We have received your records request pursuant to KSA 45-218 dated September 17, 2019,” city staff wrote in a document emailed to the newspaper. “Currently we are without a City Attorney who would normally review such request. Once the City of Frontenac has an Attorney in place, we will contact you and your request will be processed in a timely manner.”
As pointed out by Kansas Press Association Legal Adviser Max Kautsch, our state’s law requires a response in three days. Merely lacking an attorney isn’t justification for clamming up.
Clearly, something happened in Frontenac. Grilz’s suspicion that some kind of KOMA violation occurred in the run-up to the meeting seemed worth investigating. But without a responsive local government, providing the records that constituents have a right to, we won’t know.
The city should do better. And sooner, rather than later.