HUTCHINSON NEWS: Demand transparency

By Ron Sylvester
January 29, 2016

It’s time for Kansas leaders to stop insulting the American way of life while hiding behind waving flags.

That’s exactly what’s happened when Gov. Sam Brownback and his legislative minions preach patriotic platitudes while hiding their handiwork behind closed doors, assuring us we need to trust them. Everything will be all right, if we just go along. They’ll take care of everything.

That’s un-American.

This week, a group of nonprofits formed the Open Kansas Initiative. They are asking lawmakers to sign a pledge to be more transparent.

It will be instructive to voters who signs the pledge to conduct government in the open and who wants to cower in the shadows of secrecy.

Most of the organizations behind this initiative represent the poor and children, two population groups that have suffered during the Brownback administration.

Kansas law requires government records to be open to public inspection – no matter who asks for them – and the law must be liberally construed, erring on the side of openness. That’s not always the case.

Kansas Action for Children, for example, says it couldn’t get straight answers when seeking to learn how money from a 1998 settlement with tobacco companies is being spent. It’s supposed to go to children’s programs. But that money has been tapped during state budget wrangling for years, and Kansas Action for Children has had problems getting the records.

What’s most disturbing is that KAC made its request to Attorney General Derek Schmidt. The attorney general is the one tasked with enforcing the Kansas Open Records Act. It’s sad when those trusted with enforcing the law try to subvert it.

The Kansas Press Association, of which The News is a member, is another organization fighting for transparency. One of the most egregious cases of secrecy involved the Topeka Capital- Journal being charged more than $2,800 for about two days worth of emails between staff at the Kansas Department of Children’s and Families.

The press association and the Sunshine Coalition for Open Governmentare pushing for changes in the law that would standardize charges. After all, making records too expensive to get effectively closes them to the general public.

Don’t let any one of these pseudo conservatives talk about the liberal media or that this is some kind of progressive policy. This isn’t a news media issue. This isn’t a liberal issue.

Open government is about as conservative a value as you’ll find. Abraham Lincoln reinforced that when he said: “Let the people know the facts and the country will be safe.” The Heritage Foundation is among the staunchest supporters of transparency.

Rep. John Rubin, a Republican from Shawnee, is sponsoring a bill requiring live-streaming of audio from legislative committee meetings to make public access even greater.

But some of Rubin’s fellow Republicans aren’t happy with his efforts to end their practice of bundling several bills together, making it easier to shuffle policies so lawmakers and the public can’t fully understand what’s being passed. It’s just another way to hide what they’re doing under the capitol dome.

It’s time people who call themselves conservatives start upholding all of those values and not just the ones they find convenient.

Democracy is meant to include everyone. To do that, business needs to be conducted in the open, for everyone to see.

Read more from the Hutchinson News.

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