Legislators who attended a series of gatherings in January at Cedar Crest are collectively off the hook.

Legislators who attended a series of gatherings in January at Cedar Crest are collectively off the hook.
Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor ruled Tuesday there was not enough evidence to show substantial violations of the Open Meetings Act, but the legislators made technical violations of the law.
Kansas courts rarely impose sanctions for technical violations of open meetings law, which bars a majority of members of governing bodies discussing or taking action behind closed doors.
The admonishment from the district attorney likely will be the only consequence for the more than 90 legislators who attended the Cedar Crest gatherings.
Although the meetings at Cedar Crest may have been “technical violations” of open meetings, they were definitely violations of the spirit of the law and a violation of the public trust.
Several troubling issues arise out of this case.
First is the inability of the mostly Republican contingent to remember specifically what was discussed during the meetings.
It seems odd that when an investigation was convened concerning these meetings that 90 intelligent elected officials “could not recall” enough information about what was discussed to aid a Democrat prosecutor in his case.
Second was the allegedly ignorance of legislators in question of the tenants of the Kansas Open Meetings Act. This is an act that applies to all elected governing bodies in Kansas.
The idea the legislators did not understand a law that so fundamentally tied to the operation of even the most basic governing body is disturbing. Steps need to be taken so all legislators fully understand the act when they take office.
Members of the public generally don’t hear much about open meetings unless pesky journalists like us are complaining about violations.
The Open Meeting Act requires public business to be conducted in the public eye.
The spirit of the law is to bring all debate and action of public governing bodies into the light of day. This means no under-the-table-deals and no behind-closed-doors decisions.
It gives all community residents — not just journalists — the right to be informed of and to attend public meetings. Some of these meetings include school board meetings, city and county commission meetings and even the Legislature itself.
The Kansas Open Meetings Law gives you a say about how your government works. It is an essential part of democracy, and it is something every student graduating from a high school government class should understand.
The final concern created by this incident is the role of the governor himself.
The governor’s spokeswoman Tuesday was quoted as saying “the governor and his staff clearly understood KOMA and took the appropriate precautions.”
If the governor and his staff “took precautions,” they knew they were treading dangerously close to an open meetings violation.
Why go there in the first place? Why not present his agendas to the entire public? Why not open up these “gatherings” to public view? Why did the governor need to meet with legislators behind closed doors?
The governor as an individual is not subject to the open meetings law. However, as the leader of the state executive branch, the governor, whether Democrat or Republican, should be at the forefront of protecting and encouraging open government.
If the governor wants to push agendas, express opinions on public matters and sway legislators, he needs to do it in public view and not behind the closed doors of Cedar Crest.

— Cristina Janney for the McPherson Sentinel Editorial Board