Although the majority of the government entities apply a common sense approach to Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) requests and costs; an unfortunate few use KORA fees as a barrier to transparency, and there is currently no recourse for citizens who believe the charges, or their treatment, are unfair.
For example, the Gardner-Edgerton School District charges fees for computer-generated reports – charging staff time and copy charges for information that should be readily available with a customized report and the push of a button in this computerized age. At this time, USD 231 will not provide electronic information, but instead require patrons pick up hard copies at the board office and make immediate payment. They do not accept credit cards. There is no refund policy.
Residents rarely report challenges when requesting records from the Spring Hill School District or the cities of Gardner, Edgerton and Spring Hill.
While USD 231 charges for most routine requests, they are not alone. While several Gardner area residents traveled to Topeka to testify before the Federal and State Affairs committee supporting Senate Bill 10 – a bill that would cap and set a uniform standard for KORA fees – residents also attended from northern Johnson County and Wichita.
Unfortunately, the number of taxpayer-funded lobbyists opposing the legislation outnumbered citizens – who traveled on their own dime – easily 10 to 1. The bill was tabled, but hopefully discussion will continue and a common sense compromise can be reached.
There are several areas for discussion. We would like to see the following:
• A PRICE CAP be set on “fair and reasonable” fees, perhaps based on fair market value. Kinkos, a private for-profit business, makes paper copies for 25 cents, and this cost is inclusive of all overhead including salary and benefits.
• a PRICING CHART equally applicable to all. It appears some constituents are charged, others are not, and the pricing appears to be on a “rubber rate card.” Price chart should be readable, published and readily visible.
• an ITEMIZED ESTIMATE/INVOICE – government agencies should immediately provide a “good faith estimate” within 24 hours of receiving the request. If the request appears to be labor intensive. The “good faith estimate” should not be used by government agencies to extend the three-day answer period for requests.
• a GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE. Taxpayers who believe they are being priced out of KORA requests, or have other problems associated with obtaining KORA requests should have a grievance procedure both within, and outside, the government entity – perhaps the Government Ethics Commission or similar agency.
Our thanks to area residents who took time out of their schedules, paid their own way, and testified in favor of of the bill. A special thanks goes to Sen. Jake Laturner, who braved the scorn of paid lobbyists to introduce this bill on constituents’ behalf.Transparency is key to good government.
KORA should not be used as a barrier to providing the public information.
Written by the editorial staff.