• Last modified 333 days ago (June 22, 2023)


20 hear talk about open meetings, open records

Staff writer

Although Marion city officials turned out in good numbers for a presentation Monday evening on open records and open meetings laws, other city and county officials were absent.

Lawrence attorney Max Kautsch, who specializes in first amendment rights and open government, talked with a crowd of 20 people.

Kautsch, president of the Kansas Coalition for Open Government, is hot line attorney for both the Kansas and Nebraska Press Associations, and Kansas and Nebraska Associations of Broadcasters and is an adjunct professor at the University of Kansas School of Law.

Marion city council members Kevin Burkholder, Ruth Herbel, Zach Collett, and David Mayfield attended his presentation. So did city administrator Brogan Jones and several city employees.

Some members of St. Luke Hospital board of directors also attended, along with sheriff Jeff Soyez, who is on the hospital board.

Linda Martinez, who lives in Peabody and sends out a weekly newsletter, also attended and asked Kautsch several questions.

Interested members of the public attended as well.

Public policy favors public records being open for inspection, Kautsch said.

A public record is any recorded information which is made, maintained, or kept by a public agency.

A record is presumed open but might need to be redacted, he said. There is discretionary authority to close records.

Martinez asked what happened to closed records once a criminal investigation is closed.

“Does an autopsy report become a public record?” she asked.

“It’s a very fluid thing,” Kautsch said.

Court settlements by public agencies are open records, he said. An agency cannot use taxpayer money to settle a lawsuit and keep it secret.

Any agency that gets public financing of $350 or more a year is subject to open records law, Kautsch said.

He also went over procedural hurdles that happen when requesting records.

Martinez asked whether a city could require a person to come to an office to fill out a written form to get a record.

Kautsch said the agency couldn’t require a particular form, but recommended that people not become so stubborn as to make getting a record more difficult.

During a public meeting, executive sessions are the most important things to consider.

When an executive session is called, council and commission members should clue people in to the reason for the executive session instead of relying on pat “exceptions” such to discuss acquisition of property or personnel matters.

A better way to keep the public’s trust would be to say “consider buying land for a fire station,” he said.

Last modified June 22, 2023