November 25, 2014

Public records should be affordable, accessible

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.

Comments

  1. Judith Rogers says:

    In my opinion and based on my own personal experiences our local government entities which include the city of Gardner and USD 231 don’t really have any respect for the citizens who pay their taxes dutifully nor for the Kansas Open Records and Kansas Open Meetings.

    Recently I sent an e-mail to the city of Gardner with respect to some charges made with the city’s credit card. I received a reply which I didn’t feel was complete so I sent the follow-up e-mail as a follow-up:

    From: Judith Rogers [mailto:pandazinger@kc.rr.com]
    Sent: Saturday, March 16, 2013 12:05 PM
    To: Doreen K. Pesek
    Cc: Heath Freeman; Randy Gregorcyk; Larry Fotovich; Chris Morrow; Kristina Harrison; Cheryl Harrison-Lee; Howe, Steve, DAT; Denton, Bryan, DAT
    Subject: Re: KORA Request – Expenditures

    My original Open Records Request asked as to what individual was using a city credit card for the following listed meetings and that question has not been answered. I also requested to be advised of all of the entities present at each of these meetings and that also has not been answered.

    I also need to know what potential opportunities with Shook, Hardy & Bacon were discussed on Jan. 4, 2013 and again what ctiy personnel used the city credit card that date?

    I need all Council member names who attended the meeting of Jan. 6, 2013 and what city personnel utililized the city credit card. Specifically why was this so-called “briefing” meeting needed and why was a closed meeting held?

    Again, I need specifics as to what was discussed at ALL of these outside meetings.

    Why were these meetings not held at Gardner City Hall?

    Judith Rogers

    Gardner, Ks.

    ****************************************************************************************

    Here is the reply I get. Do you think they have answered all questions? Then they tell me that “There is no further information reflected on the records.” This is the way they connive to get out of answering your questions and to me they are violating the Open Records Law – there is no record – I guess our City Mgr. is suffering from Alzheimers and not able to recall information and she didn’t make a record of the information, thereby they don’t have to answer your questions.

    —– Original Message —–
    From: Doreen K. Pesek
    To: Judith Rogers
    Sent: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 9:12 AM
    Subject: RE: KORA Request – Expenditures

    Ms. Rogers,

    All of the listed charges shown are for City Administrator Harrison-Lee’s purchasing card. There is no further information reflected on the records.

    Respectfully,

    Doreen K. Pesek

    City Clerk

    City of Gardner, Kansas

    120 E. Main Street

    Gardner, KS 66030

    (913) 856-0945 office

    (913) 856-0997 fax

    *******************************************************************************************

    You have a city election coming up. I don’t know who in the Sam Hill the citizens are going to vote for but it would appear to me all of those in office right now need to be run out of office and the City Mgr. and most of the city staff fired since they operate in this manner and they have done it time and time again in my opinion. I have sent a copy of all of the e-mails to Dist. Attorney Howe with the hope he will do his job but I am not holding my breath considering how he merely tapped the city administration/politicians on their hands previously when they were found guilty of wrongdoing.

    Again, only the people can take action to prevent cronyism and morally corrupt government – the choice is yours. Here is what happens when citizens are not doing their jobs and providing the needed oversight – http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-bell-verdict-20130321-1,0,3934374.story

  2. Judith Rogers says:

    The above link I provided doesn’t appear to be working. Here is another link http://www.kansascity.com/2013/03/20/4132483/verdicts-reached-in-bell-calif.html. If this one doesn’t work for you, just go to the Los Angeles Times or the KC Star which both have stories on the outcome of some of the Bell, Ca. corruption trials. Citizens have to be doing their jobs to avoid such corruption and financial rape of taxpayers.

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