Many entities, especially public or taxpayer funded entities, offer legislative agendas to elected officials. The agendas lay out items of concern and areas in which legislators may expect a visit from a lobbyist on their behalf. In many cases, the agendas of public entities work against the very individuals they claim to represent.
For example, the city of Gardner’s legislative agenda asks that open meetings and open records laws should not be unduly burdensome.
“Additionally, the city wants to reiterate that there are circumstances the public is better served by preventing the disclosure of sensitive information,” it reads. Johnson County’s legislative agenda says something similar.
Unfortunately, many elected officials at the state and federal level believe that the folks at city hall speak for the residents of their community — even when the proposals are in direct opposition to individual liberties.
The Gardner News doesn’t have a bucket full of money to hire a lobbyist, as many public entities, including the Johnson County Board of Commissioners and Johnson County Community College, do. However, we offer this legislative agenda.
These are the issues we’d like to see addressed by the Kansas Legislature in 2011:
1. Require audio taping of executive sessions. Information would be held for one year, and only opened if a complaint is made, and only in front of a judge to determine validity of complaint.
Currently, executive sessions are not subject to taping. If there is a concern that the Kansas Open Meetings Act was violated, the matter becomes an issue of he-said, she-said. The law should be changed to allow a judge to make that interpretation.
2. Tighten attorney/client exemptions for closed-door sessions. For example, council meets with city’s financial advisor using the KOMA attorney client privilege exemption. This exemption has been stretched to the limit. The public has the right to know what officials are doing with their money.
3. Require that campaign finance reports for politicians and committiees in cities of less than the first class be due within 5 days of an election, and preliminary reports should be due prior to an election. Currently, they are not due until Dec. 31, many months after elections. The date reports are submitted and laws governing campaign finance needs to be strengthened.
For example; election officials say some candidates have reported money “found” on their doorstep. Those submitting reports, or in any way responsible for campaign finances, need to have name and location verified with a photo identification card.
Enforcement of campaign finance laws and penalties should also be addressed by the legislature. Currently, the penalty for violating campaign finance laws is $100 following criminal prosecution.
4. Define fair and reasonable copy costs. As custodians of public records, the law allows fair and reasonable copy costs, but some entities charge $35 just to turn a computer on and print a report. ”Copy and overhead” costs are now being used to dissuade citizens for asking for public information.
5. Open probable cause affadavits. The affidavits were sealed under a former attorney general. Kansas is the only state with these records closed. They should be an open record.
6. Any business receiving a tax incentive (TIF, IRBs, abatements, STAR bonds, etc.) should be audited for compliance each year and the results made public. Businesses not fulfilling obligations upon which the tax incentives were based should be billed for abated taxes, which would be immediately due and payable.
7. Strengthen public notice laws to improve transparency and accountability.
8. Require third-party verified copies of all records or reports sent to the Kansas Deparment of Records. Today, there is no process to verify such reports and no penalty for failure to submit the report. Third party verification could be included with the report and would be revenue neutral.
Government entities that do not submit required forms should be fined and their failure made public.
9. Stop the use of public monies for lobbying.
10. Quit passing stupid, feel-good, politically correct laws. Reduce government intrusion into taxpayers’ lives.
11. Balance the budget by reducing spending.