Riddle: When is a meeting not a meeting?
Answer: “The term ‘meeting’ shall not include: (a) Occasions when a majority of the membership of a body or agency subject to this act attends a social gathering or otherwise gathers so long as the body or agency does not deliberate specific matters that, at the time of the exchange, the participating members expect to come before the body or agency at a later date; and (b) gatherings of any political party caucus of either house of the legislature.”
In other words, the Kansas Open Meetings Act is hereby totally neutered, under the wording offered up in House Bill 2336 by the House Judiciary Committee. Similar action is proposed in a companion piece, Senate Bill 200.
The proposals are interpreted as a response to last year’s meetings at Cedar Crest, where legislators gathered at the governor’s invitation. An investigation ensued to determine whether the open meetings act was violated. There were seven meetings, mainly involving Republican lawmakers, and it was a Shawnee County Democratic district attorney who opened the probe. There was no prosecution, although the investigator alleged “technical” violations of the law and noted many of those participating knew little about the law.
With that dust settled, the lawmakers now are proposing to make any social event a place where any and all issues can be discussed without the public being informed. This would apply to all officials covered by the open meetings law, not just legislators — although they obviously are giving themselves a specific exception.
The Senate bill would allow such conversations as long as they did not lead to formulation of policy or to a vote.
It’s already difficult enough to police discussions by public officials outside their convened sessions. These proposals practically invite officials to thumb their noses at the law and easily let them keep the public out of the process through which they arrive at decisions — especially decisions on issues that officials may prefer to settle without being heard and seen.
It’s a bad idea. OK, you folks under the Capitol dome. You’ve vented. Now get back to work on behalf of the public instead of working against the people who elected you.