Archive for Wednesday, July 28, 2004

KU claims pay records ‘clearly’ off-limits

Arguments filed in case on athletic director’s compensation

July 28, 2004

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News organizations seeking records about the Kansas University athletic director's compensation knew the documents could remain closed when they sued to get them, a KU attorney argued in a court filing Tuesday.

An opposing attorney called the arguments "nonsense."

The Kansas Open Records Act "clearly and unambiguously" allows government agencies to refuse access to personnel records, Sara Trower, the university's associate general counsel, said in written legal arguments.

The act is the state law intended to ensure public agencies and those spending public funds conduct their business in public.

Trower filed written arguments Tuesday in Douglas County District Court in a lawsuit filed in January by the Journal-World and 6News. The Associated Press and Kansas Press Assn. later joined in the lawsuit. A court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 3.

The university has released Athletic Director Lew Perkins' annual base salary, $420,000, and recently disclosed an agreement guaranteeing him $100,000 in multimedia payments, as well as other perks. But it has refused to release his employment agreement or a separate agreement for potential supplemental compensation known as a retention payment agreement.

Calling it proof the news organizations knew the law allowed the records to remain closed, Trower cited unsuccessful attempts to change the Open Records Act during this year's legislative session. She said testimony by Mike Merriam, a Topeka attorney now representing the AP and KPA in the lawsuit, "constitutes an admission" the records law does not require disclosure.

But Merriam said news organizations statewide believed then -- and now -- that the records law requires disclosure of such agreements and other documents. They were asking legislators to change the law to make it even clearer, he said.

He dismissed Trower's argument as "absurd."

"What the Legislature does or doesn't do isn't proof of anything," he said during a telephone interview. "That's just nonsense."

In late June, Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline said the information should be made public because it involved a public employee.

"I've never known that the knowledge of somebody's salary somehow has impeded success on the basketball court or football field. It just hasn't," Kline said.

Kline noted Perkins' contract referred to the possibility of "supplemental compensation" beyond his publicly paid-for benefits.

"If it is a private source of funding for performing a public job, then the information should be available," Kline said.

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