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Archive for Saturday, December 11, 1999

OPEN RECORDS REFORM OUTLINED

December 11, 1999

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A Democratic proposal would limit copying charges for public records to 25 cents a page.

State Democratic leaders took aim Friday at the administration of Gov. Bill Graves, unveiling a "good government" reform package they say is needed because the Republican governor isn't properly minding the government store.

"These things are necessary, we believe, because the current administration has not been paying attention on several fronts," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

The Democratic proposals beef up enforcement of state open records law, broaden protections for whistle-blowers and open more state contracts to competitive bidding.

"In recent months, a number of instances have reflected poorly on the state," said House Minority Leader Jim Garner, D-Coffeyville. "This is our response to those instances."

"We've all seen the stories in the newspapers lately about the problems people are having with getting public documents," Hensley said, citing a recent series of articles on open records by 19 Kansas newspapers.

The series found that some county and school officials are not fully complying with the state's Open Records Act.

"And we've all seen the stories about what went on at the Department of Aging," Hensley said, referring to Journal-World reports that the agency's former chief gave aide Terry Glasscock a no-bid, $135,000 consulting contract.

Glasscock is a brother of House Majority Leader Kent Glasscock, R-Manhattan. Kent Glasscock's wife, Joyce, is Gov. Bill Graves' chief of staff.

"Their contracts ought to be competitively bid instead of going through a good-old-boy system based on who you are and who you know," Hensley said.

Hensley also cited a Journal-World report of a worker who lost his job after calling attention to shelved and possibly shredded taxpayer checks at the Department of Revenue.

The state's whistle-blower law did not protect the worker because he was a temporary agency employee doing subcontract work for the state.

"That one really bothers me," Hensley said.

The Democrats' "Good Government Initiative" would:

  • Require competitive bidding on state contracts for professional and consulting services.
  • Create a Freedom of Information Officer position within the Secretary of State's Office to rule on disputes involving the state's Open Records Act.
  • Extend current protections for state-employed whistle-blowers to employees for companies that subcontract with the state.
  • Limit fees for copying public documents to 25 cents a page.
  • Fine public officials who knowingly withhold information from the public.

On Thursday, Graves and Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall proposed a new state agency to oversee compliance with the open records law.

Garner said creating a new state agency for open records and meetings enforcement "seems a little too bureaucratic."

Garner said Democrats would "rather have the Secretary of State's Office in charge of compliance because, legally, it's already the chief custodian for governmental records and it already has a long-term relationship with local governments."

Graves spokesman Don Brown said the governor is "encouraged" by the Democrats' proposal.

"He sees this as a building block for what he and the attorney general are supporting on the open-records issue," Brown said. "Some of the other issues have been proposed before and weren't adopted, so he's withholding more specific comment until he knows more about the details of what they're proposing."

-- Dave Ranney's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail address is dranney@ljworld.com.

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