KC Star editorial on Hodge & open meetings at JCCC in The Kansas Publisher, monthly publication for Kansas newspaper industry – Nov 2009

Link: http://kspress.com/sites/default/files/kspub1104.pdf

PDF – November 2009 – Kansas Publisher

guest commentary
The Kansas City Star
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
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.