Legislative action from 2012 is trickling down to tickle citizens from slumber again. Citizen access to public documents may be impacted.
Cities have complained for some time about the cost of publishing legal notices in newspapers. Sometimes ordinances (city laws) can take up a big chunk of real estate on a newspaper page and these publications are required before the laws can be enacted and they are expensive.
Cities complained about a fairness issue: They have to publish legal notices more than county governments or school boards do.
The Kansas Press Association and the Kansas League of Municipalities (the lobbying arm of local city governments) worked out language for the law, which became effective July 1 after it was approved by all but three lawmakers in the state. Now, cities can publish summaries of most ordinances, as long as their attorneys approve of the language and there is a link to direct readers to where the full ordinance can be found online. The ordinance also must be kept in the city clerks’ offices so the public can get a copy.
The compromise was worked out on the fear that cities, using home rule authority, would end the requirement of publication of legal notices.
The league pointed out in the negotiation phase that six states in the nation still require full publication of ordinances, while 27 allowed for summaries and the remainder had no publication requirement.
So the press and public lost this battle, sort of. The cities save some money that they can spend on other things. Parsons city commissioners were told about the publication issue this week.
The point is that somewhere along the way cities forgot for whom they work, as did legislators. If not for citizens, cities would not exist and nor would they have money to operate. Publication, while it may not be required in some states, still offers the public the chance to view public records in print.
Looking at an ordinance in a newspaper is much easier for some citizens than trying to track through a website (for those with web access) to find it or make a trip to city hall to get a copy of the law. A newspaper comes to their doorstep or mailbox.
Maybe this is just the start of a nasty trend to restrict access to other documents that may cost a city or county or school district pennies on the dollar of a multi-million dollar budget. Maybe not.
The truth is, if a city wants to keep citizens informed about its actions, its staff will do all it can to make sure the public has open access to meetings and documents.
While this may not be the end of democracy as our founding fathers pictured it, it certainly gives one pause.
By the way, the city of Parsons has only one ordinance on its website for 2013. Follow this link (http://www.parsonsks.com/egov/apps/document/center.egov?path=browse&id=8&fDD=2-0) on your computer and you should see it. The ordinance was published in full in the Sun in January.