Kansas’ open meetings law must always be heeded
Kansas City Star, The (MO) – Thursday, October 29, 2009
A recent opinion by Kansas Attorney General Steve Six contains advice that all public officials should take to heart.
Asked for a hypothetical opinion based on the facts of a long-disputed incident at Johnson County Community College, Six cautioned public bodies to honor the state s open meetings law, even when no one is looking.
Within an executive session, the governing body or agency should remain vigilant and engage in self-policing to assure compliance, Six said.
The trustees and president of the community college could have spared themselves a lot of trouble if they had followed that line of reasoning last February.
The trustees were meeting in executive session to evaluate college President Terry Calaway s job performance. Asked about the upcoming budget, Calaway produced a list of possible upcoming budget cuts. Former Trustee Benjamin Hodge shared the list with the media, provoking the wrath of other trustees.
In response to a complaint from Hodge , Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said the list fit into the category of personnel matters of non-elected officials and could be discussed in a closed meeting.
We couldn t disagree more.
The proposed cuts were general in nature and didn t discuss specific personnel. Job evaluation sessions aren t meant to provide a haven for boards to discuss issues of keen interest to the public.
Howe s opinion leaves a wide hole for school boards, city councils and other boards to conduct public business behind closed doors. That s not a precedent the district attorney should set.
In his recent advisory, Six noted that Kansas courts have said that public boards must separate matters that are permitted in executive session and those permissible only in open meetings, except to protect the privacy of employees. That wasn t the case with the community college meeting.
The Kansas Press Association has called upon Howe to reconsider his opinion. We hope he will.
Provided By: The McClatchy Company
Index Terms: Johnson County Community College; The Kansas Press Association
Personal Name(s): Steve Six; Terry Calaway s; Steve Howe
Record Number: ed_bks_jccc—405916
Copyright (c) 2009 The Kansas City Star