Editorial: Stepping into the sunshine

Gov. Jeff Colyer’s executive orders promoting open government in Kansas should be applauded.

On Thursday, Colyer signed four orders that will make Kansas government more transparent. In less than two weeks as governor, Coloyer has already done more for open government than his predecessor Sam Brownback did in seven years. Below are the orders he signed:

  • An order that eliminates fees for the first 100 pages of documents requested under the Kansas Open Records Act for residents of Kansas.
  • An order requiring employees of the governor’s office to use only official email accounts to conduct state business.
  • An order mandating all cabinet agencies to track and report performance metrics on their agencies.
  • And an order creating a centralized website where all open meeting notices of executive branch agencies will be posted.

“In my travels around the state, I’ve talked to many Kansans who express their desire for more sunlight on government dealings,” Colyer said. “Transparency is the key to better accountability and accountability is the key to real results.”

Thursday’s executive orders come at a time when legislators from both parties have introduced a number of bills dedicated to transparency and openness. So far, legislation has been introduced to:

  • Make police body camera videos available to the public in fatal shootings;
  • Stop the practice of allowing anonymous legislation.
  • And compel the release of law enforcement investigative records once a case is inactive.

Not enough credit can be given to the reporting of the Kansas City Star for the Legislature’s newfound commitment to open government. The Star’s investigative series “Why So Secret, Kansas,” published last fall, exposed the state as perhaps the nation’s least transparent and has spurred lawmakers to act on transparency issues like never before. Newspapers have a long history of advocating on behalf of the public when it comes to open government and the Star’s series is a distinguished example.

Clearly, Colyer got the memo. The orders making the first 100 pages of open records free and requiring officials to use work email accounts to conduct state business are especially welcome. The Kansas Open Records Act gives state agencies so much leeway in setting fees that they can essentially use the fees to block access to records. And the number of times officials have used private email accounts to avoid public disclosure are too many to count.

It’s still early in the session and much of the transparency legislation still faces an uphill battle for approval. But it’s good to see that the governor and lawmakers recognize that being the darkest state is no badge of honor.