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Morning Sun
  • AG offers refresher course for open meetings, records

  • Open meetings and records allow the general public the opportunity to remain informed on the actions of government at all levels, but the Kansas Open Meetings Act and Kansas Open Records Act can be tricky to navigate, even for professionals who work within their parameters at all times.

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  • Open meetings and records allow the general public the opportunity to remain informed on the actions of government at all levels, but the Kansas Open Meetings Act and Kansas Open Records Act can be tricky to navigate, even for professionals who work within their parameters at all times.
    With this in mind, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office is conducting trainings on the policies, abbreviated as KOMA and KORA, for records custodians such as clerks, attorneys, members of the media and members of the public.
    “It’s one of the duties of the office,” Schmidt said of the need to continually educate on open government policies. “We have the opportunity to really reach a lot of Kansans with the message.”
    Schmidt said his office is in charge of enforcing the laws, that most boards don’t want to have violations.
    “It is much better to help people do the right thing,” Schmidt said.
    Lisa Mendoza, the assistant attorney general, led the presentation, but also invited comment from Ron Keefover, education-information officer with the Office of Judicial Administration, Andrew Nash, managing editor of The Morning Sun and Jim Emerson, Crawford County counselor.
    “We try to get a mix of perspective,” Schmidt said. “It helps.”
    Mendoza said the goal of the discussions is to know the law and to understand the law, and she said she encourages transparency whenever possible.
    Keefover said he and Mendoza work closely due to their roles in the Sunshine Coalition and  handling KORA and KOMA officers, respectively.
    In the course of the training, topics covered included the legal definition of a meeting and how closed meetings could occur, with examples of what would fall within appropriate meeting bounds and what could constitute a violation.
    Emerson said some questions about serial communication, or discussion outside of a meeting that leads to an agreement on a matter that requires binding action to be taken by a board or agency, became issues in 2009.
    “In the old days, you weren’t sure if it was an issue or not,” Emerson said. “With a three-member board, it is tough. They cannot communicate at all (about board business) unless they are in an open meeting.”
    “If you are one of those folks, you just want to make sure you are avoiding appearances that could cause difficulty,” Mendoza advised.
    She also outlined standards of notice, the public’s right to observe and record, how and why executive sessions may be used, and more.
    Nash discussed actions under both laws that could heighten the media’s scrutiny, including late notice of meetings or denial of requests for open records.
    “If we ever contact you, please cooperate,” he said. “Don’t make us use other enforcement methods.”
    Page 2 of 2 - “I did have to file KOMA one time, and that was when they gave us an hour and a half notice for a special meeting,” he said, adding that it is not illegal to give short notice, but it did rouse suspicions.
    “If you have enough time to call your commissioners, you have enough time to let other people know you are having a meeting,” Mendoza said, then asked Emerson how he handled things.
    “There’s very rarely a spur-of-the-moment issue that comes up,” Emerson said. “Of course, Andrew is welcome.”
    Open records also were discussed.
    “Public records shall be open for inspection by any person unless otherwise provided, and this act shall be liberally construed and applied to promote such policy,” Mendoza quoted from the state statute.
    “Our purpose today is to know and understand what the laws are. Hopefully the laws will be your friend,” she continued, adding that it is always best to error on the side of openness.
    She also outlined standards for responding, timelines for responding and the importance of providing as much information as possible in as cooperative a manner as possible, while still protecting information that is not to be open per state laws.
    Schmidt said the sessions are important as refresher courses and also to keep everyone involved updated on any changes in either law.
    Similar sessions also are being conducted in Garden City, Colby, Topeka and Paola this week.

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