Sunshine week: Keep government bodies accountable
By DOUG ANSTAETT
Director, Kansas Press Association
After a long winter, it seems everyone is in the mood for some sunshine.
It couldn't be a better time to be celebrating National Sunshine Week, a time for the citizens of Kansas to recommit themselves to the ideals of open government.
National Sunshine Week is March 16- 22.
Why should Kansans care about this?
Because, unfortunately, there are dozens of incidents where public officials have fallen far short of what state law requires.
The Kansas Press Association's 240 member newspapers try to do their part to make sure public bodies are following the law, but they need your help. Citizens who take their democratic form of government seriously can provide effective oversight when they attend meetings, seek records, or simply observe their governmental officials in action.
Do your local public bodies give proper notice of their meetings? When they do meet, do they discuss policy issues in public or do they seem to have their minds made up when the meeting begins? Do they resort to executive sessions and discuss issues that aren't allowed under the Kansas Open Meetings Act exclusions? Do they ever vote outside the meeting room? The Kansas Open Meetings Act and the Kansas Open Records Act say that meetings and records of public bodies should be open to the public. And, in the vast majority of cases, elected and appointed officials carry out their duties conscientiously.
Yet there are some who don't believe they owe the public anything, that they can meet when they want, where they want, often without telling their constituents about it at all.
They are wrong.
While newspaper staffs would love to have the resources to cover every meeting, often they cannot.
That's where you come in.
When you attend meetings, seek public records and question those in authority about how they are conducting themselves, you help keep government open, accessible and accountable.
"Sunshine" is a perfect description of how government should operate. It means that the publicí's business is discussed thoroughly in public, with the public's participation, and it means decisions are never made behind closed doors without the public's knowledge or input. "Sunshine Week" is an annual reminder that smoke-filled rooms and secret meetings are simply anti-American and betray our heritage of self-government.
Please do what you can to make sure your local governmental bodies are playing by the rules.