|NMU||KANSAS||Freedom of Information|
Task force of governor-elect not subject to open meeting laws
- A district court found that a transition office can hold private meetings because it does not qualify as a state agency.
Jan. 9, 2003 — A Topeka, Kan., district court ruled Jan. 6 that task force meetings held by Gov.-elect Kathleen Sebelius did not violate the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
Fourteen news organizations filed suit to stop the Budget Efficiency Savings Team, a division of the Governor-Elect Transition Office, from holding meetings in private. The court ruled that BEST was an advisory agency and therefore exempt from the open meetings law.
Although he ruled against them, Judge Eric Rosen was supportive of the plaintiffs in his written conclusion. He noted that while Sebelius had not violated the law, her organization did go against the spirit of the open meetings law.
The Kansas Press Association maintained that Sebelius’s transition office qualifies as a government agency because it receives and spends public monies.
“If they believe in open government as a fundamental principle the meetings should be open before and after [the official inauguration],” KPA executive director Jeff Burkhead said.
The news organizations have appealed. Burkhead also said he hopes for more legislative support to close the loophole.
The Kansas Open Meetings Law currently applies to all “legislative and administrative bodies and agencies of the state.” The court said that the budget task force is considered exempt from the law because it is neither a part of state government nor was it created by an executive order of the governor.
The law was amended in 2001 to include agencies created by executive order after the closure of gubernatorial task force meetings. That amendment did not apply to Sebelius because a governor-elect does not have the power to issue executive orders.
Despite his decision, Rosen was very clear about his views regarding private meetings: “When meetings that directly impact public policy of our state occur out of public eye or ear, our democracy is put in jeopardy.”
(The Associated Press v. Sebelius; Media counsel: Mike Merriam, Topeka) — KD
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press