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Archive for Sunday, August 24, 2003

Discussions were behind-the-scenes affairs

August 24, 2003

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Negotiations between city and business leaders about the future of a living-wage proposal took place entirely outside the public's view.

"This was not a smoke-filled room kind of conversation," said Lawrence City Commissioner Sue Hack, one of the participants. "This was trying to get a better understanding of positions and how you come to those positions."

Hack and Commissioner Boog Highberger said they tried to avoid violating the Kansas Open Meetings Act -- which requires the commission to conduct its business in public -- by not discussing their meetings with the other three members of the commission.

"It's harder to brainstorm on the public record," Highberger said. "Anything you throw out is potentially reported in the newspaper. It really limits how creative you can be."

The behind-the-scenes meetings "let people frankly discuss their positions in a way they couldn't do with hundreds of people watching," he said.

The remaining commissioners had varying degrees of awareness of what was going on, with Commissioners Mike Rundle and David Schauner finding out less than a week before the Aug. 19 commission meeting.

Mayor Dunfield and Rundle said they were comfortable with the process.

"It's much easier to have a give-and-take, a negotiation if you will, when people can talk frankly to each other," Dunfield said.

Schauner, however, expressed reservations.

"I'm in favor of any process that gets us a good result," Schauner said. "I would have preferred a more open process than that, I think."

Hack said the process was useful.

"It's hard to have lengthy, long discussions at a commission meeting," she said. "To get to the meat of an issue with another commissioner is still of benefit to the community, provided you're still obeying the law."

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