Archive for Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Sebelius stumbles in allowing task force to close meetings

November 27, 2002

Governor-elect Kathleen Sebelius and her transition team made a serious mistake when they decided to close to the public the meetings of a review team studying ways to improve state government.

The team will have public hearings, but team members will discuss how to implement the facts gathered at those hearings behind closed doors. The state's open meeting laws don't apply, a spokesman for the Kansas Attorney General's office said last week, because Sebelius is not yet governor.

At best, that dodge is a technicality that runs counter to the spirit of the Kansas Open Meetings Law. It is naÃive to think future policy will not be created during those secret meetings. It is, after all, part of the incoming governor's promised top-to-bottom review of state government. That review was initiated as the new administration faces a budget crisis that has state revenue collections running $310 million behind for the current fiscal year with little prospect of an immediate turnaround in the state's economy. Decisions on how to address this crisis have to be made in the month and a half before Sebelius is sworn in and the Legislature starts its 2003 session.

Journalists have a professional interest in open government, and it is expected those of us in this profession will press for access. But there is good reason for all state residents to rally to the cause of open government. It is easier for public officials to yield to the pressure of special interests when decisions are made behind closed doors. It is also easier to make political missteps when proposals aren't tempered by public opinion.

Sebelius should return the goodwill of the Kansans who elected her and open the review team's deliberations to the public.

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