Press Association questions Howe’s KOMA opinion
The Kansas Press Association asked Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe today to review an opinion he issued this summer on a potential violation of the state’s open meetings law.
Benjamin Hodge, a former trustee at the Johnson County Community College, asked Howe earlier this year to issue an opinion on whether the law was violated whenTerry Calaway, JCCC president, shared a long list of possible budget cuts with the college’s board of trustees in a closed session to evaluate his performance as president.
Howe found that the law had not been violated and noted that Calaway was responding to a question from Hodge, who ask him to provide a budget at the session that would not raise the college’s property tax this fall.
Instead of producing a budget, Calaway provided the list of 64 possible items being discussed by administration officials prior to final action on the budget. Hodge was severely chastised later by other trustees for releasing that list to the public at a reporter’s request shortly after the evaluation.
Trustees were also critical of the reporter for publishing the list on Kansascity.com.
After Howe’s opinion was issued, three members of the Kansas House and a state senator asked Kansas Attorney General Stephen Six for a hypothetical opinion based on the facts in the Hodge complaint.
Six issued his opinion late last month. It noted that the Kansas Supreme Court had recognized the situation in which two topics are intertwined, “one permitted in executive session and the other permissible only in an open meeting.”
The court adopted the policy that if segregating the topics would have been “burdensome and impractical, if not impossible, due to the common thread of connection of the [employees], whose privacy should be protected,” the entire discussion could take place in executive session.
The press association argued that it was not burdensome or impossible for Calaway to wait until an open meeting to share his 64-item list of possible budget cuts and deliberately used the closed session to discuss matters not allowed under the open meetings law.
“The opinion of the Kansas Attorney General appears to be in conflict with your ruling on the JCCC open meetings complaint,” the association letter to Howe stated.
The letter was signed by Doug Anstaett, association executive director, Kent Cornish, director of the Kansas Association of Broadcasters and Randy Brown, director of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government.
Submitted by Jim Sullinger on October 27, 2009 – 1:56pm.