Kudos to the Gardner City Council for agreeing to make the city’s expenditure report available in the council packet on their website.
Similar to a check register, the report indicates payments to city vendors, overall payroll, reimbursements and refunds.
Gardner council members routinely received the report prior to council meetings, but Gardner taxpayers had to make a tedious, written open records request on a monthly basis to receive Gardner’s.
This placed an unnecessary barrier between interested citizens and public information as well as taking valuable time away from an already overworked city staff who had to respond to individual requests.
But with one step forward, the city took two steps backward when they entered closed door sessions July 14 to discuss, according to Councilman Larry Fotovich, a proposed salary ordinance change and pay raises for city employees as a result of a salary study.
The council cited the Kansas Open Meetings Act “personnel” exemption; however, policy discussions regarding overall pay raises has always been an open record. This newspaper, as required by law, routinely publishes salary ordinances, and we have written articles about salary studies – which are fairly routine for governing bodies – on numerous occasions.
In fact, some newspapers publish the salary of individual government employees, which is open record.
The public has the right to know how tax money is spent, and particularly if, as alleged by Fotovich, the proposed salary increase would add $61,000 to the city’s already tight budget; residents have a right to that information.
Until now, we thought the city council had always been fairly forthright, and it might be newer council members did not realize they were crossing the line when discussing policy issues as opposed to specific personnel.  Fotovich was the only one to object, although he did attend the private sessions.
But the problem with closing doors and discussing routine business in secret is that it breeds suspicion.
We understand the budget is tight. We understand the city staff has foregone a raise for several years.
We’re not even opposed to a pay increase or three additional police officers – if the city staff can cut the budget of “niceties” and focus on necessities.
We are however opposed to a government culture that reeks of secrecy.
As our mothers used to say, if you’re not doing anything wrong, why are you hiding it?