Topeka Vowing to make state government more transparent to the public, Gov. Jeff Colyer signed executive orders on Thursday aimed at increasing access to open records, open meeting information, official correspondence, and data about how well state agencies are performing.
"We want to start letting people know what's happening in Kansas government," he said during a news conference. "We want to respond because I think as we have more information, we can actually get things done, and that's what this is about."
Colyer was joined at the news conference by representatives of the Kansas Press Association, Kansas Broadcasters Association and the Kansas Sunshine Coalition, a private nonprofit organization that advocates for government transparency.
Colyer had previously announced during his address to a joint session of the Legislature Wednesday that he would be signing the orders.
The orders were seen as part of a series of steps he is taking to set a different tone for his administration compared to the administration of his predecessor, former Gov. Sam Brownback, which was often viewed as secretive with information about its activities.
Among the orders Colyer signed Thursday was a directive that all executive branch employees must use their official email accounts when conducting public business.
In 2015, the Wichita Eagle reported that Brownback's budget director, Shawn Sullivan, had used a private email account to relay details of Brownback's upcoming budget proposal to certain lobbyists, even before he had provided those details to lawmakers.
In response, the Legislature passed a bill the following year making such private emails used for public business subject to the Kansas Open Records Act.
Colyer's order takes that a step further by prohibiting executive branch officials from using their private email accounts for public business in the first place.
Colyer also signed an order directing executive branch agencies to provide copies of public records that are less than 100 pages in length at no charge to the public.
Under current law, agencies are allowed to charge as much as 25 cents per page for producing copies of public records, plus fees to cover the cost of staff time and computer services required to retrieve them, as long as the fees don't exceed the actual cost of producing the documents.
That has often led to uneven enforcement of the Kansas Open Records Act since agencies are allowed to establish their own policies, as long as they remain consistent with the law. It has also led to complaints that some agencies can effectively cut off access to even the simplest of requests by charging the maximum fee allowed by law.
Colyer said he intends for his administration to be more cooperative about open records requests, although he conceded there may still be difficulties in producing records in a timely fashion.
"We're probably going to get more requests, now that we're giving them for free to Kansas citizens," he said. "So we don't have the administrative capacity to catch up. We're going to have to deal with that overall. Some requests are more complicated. Some are not. We'll comply with the law."
Another order that Colyer signed calls for setting up a centralized website that will contain information about all public meetings being scheduled by executive branch agencies, boards and commissions, along with minutes of previous meetings.
Finally, Colyer signed an order directing all executive branch agencies to establish performance measures that can be used to assess how well those agencies are meeting their core goals and objectives.
The executive orders apply only to executive branch agencies and the governor's office. They do not apply to local governments, school boards or public colleges and universities.