Early last week, the Kansas City Star began rolling out an investigative series on the lack of openness in Kansas government, primarily at the state level.
It’s one of the best investigative efforts I’ve seen in a while. It’s thorough, well-researched and eye-opening. It’s also very damning of current and past administrations, both Republican and Democrat. I highly recommend you go to www.kansascity.com or to the Wichita Eagle website, www.kansas.com, and give it a look.
In short, Kansas has one of the most secretive state governments in the entire nation, and all of us should be alarmed.
Here are a few examples of what the state government has been up to, as reported by the Star:
— The Kansas Department of Transportation fired a top spokesperson for giving an honest answer about the lack of money at KDOT. “KDOT has lost a lot of money over the last few years,” the Star quoted the spokesperson. “There’s just no funding at this point.” The Star did not publish the spokesperson’s name for fear of continued reprisals.
— The Department for Children and Families is concealing information, including data on extreme child abuse. DCF officials are alleged to have pressured a father to sign a gag order after his son was killed. The order would have prevented the father from discussing DCF’s role in the death.
— Kansas continues to lag behind other states in providing details in cases where law enforcement officers kill someone. That includes the release of body-camera video. Kansas law is among the most restrictive nationally.
The Sebelius administration and ones before have done a poor job of operating in an open way, but the Brownback administration has made a bad problem even worse.
And the problems aren’t just with Governor’s Mansion.
The Legislature routinely passes anonymous bills – where the author of the bill is unknown. The Star reported that more than 90 percent of laws passed in the past decade were anonymous.
These bills give us no idea who is behind them, or why these people want these bills passed. Only a few states allow this practice.
A new legislative session begins in just a couple months. I’m calling on all our local legislators to demand accountability on bills. If a bill has no author, it should have no support. It’s time to show voters you care about openness.
During the past two Legislative sessions, a group called Open Kansas has asked lawmakers to sign an accountability pledge. Fewer than one in four legislators signed the pledge.
Again, we should demand our local legislators sign the pledge for the 2018 session. Show you are committed to open government and a free democracy.
Kansas earned a flunking grade in a 2015 transparency and accountability study by the Center for Public Integrity. Problems can be found at all levels of government.
Cities and counties frequently abuse the rules for executive sessions. Law enforcement agencies continue to fight the release of probable cause affidavits. Kansas only recently made these public; they are routine public documents in the rest of the country.
“My No. 1 question to anybody who opts in favor of nondisclosure is, ‘What are you trying to hide from us?’” former Rep. John Rubin, a Johnson County Republican, said to the Star, calling Kansas “one of the most secretive, dark states in the country in many of these areas.”
We can do better in Kansas, however, and we should. It’s a simple proposition, really. If you are an elected official, you are doing the people’s work. It stands to reason that what you are doing should be visible and transparent to the people.
If you don’t want to do the public’s work in full view of the public, maybe you are in the wrong line of work.
— Travis Mounts, Times-Sentinel Newspapers