What’s the point of having a law requiring that government officials conduct business in the sunshine by providing access to public records when the elected leader tasked with enforcing the law cheerleads a Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) loophole large enough to drive a dozen Mack trucks through?
None. There is absolutely no point in even having KORA on the books if emails about public business are exempt from public scrutiny. And yet, that’s the position Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has taken.
Schmidt’s office is charged with enforcing KORA, but at the end of April the Kansas AG issued an opinion essentially saying if public officials use their private email accounts to conduct the business of the state, those emails are closed records.
Schmidt issued his opinion under the guise of protecting the free speech giving a green light to any public official wanting to conduct state business in the dark. When he issued the opinion, Schmidt suggested potential fixes to bring some private emails in to the sunshine.
Fortunately, it appears legislators agreed with Schmidt’s assessment. By wide margins, the Kansas Legislature passed bills to bring KORA into this century. The law, once enacted, will improve the state’s capacity to investigate alleged violations of KORA.
The bill gives the AG the ability to resolve KORA and Kansas Open Meetings Act violations through consent orders or administrative filings and adds protections to allow the AG’s office of district attorneys to review records subject to a dispute.
While we are pleased legislators are working to address outdated transparency policies, we worry the legislation doesn’t go far enough. It addresses emails, but things like private Facebook messaging, and group text messages aren’t specifically addressed.
Ideally, we the people shouldn’t have to worry that our elected officials are conducting business under the cover of darkness, but that’s not the world in which we live.
May this legislative KORA fix be only the beginning.