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University releases employment contracts in response to court order

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    News Media Update         KANSAS         Freedom of Information    

University releases employment contracts in response to court order

  • The University of Kansas disclosed its athletic director’s employment contracts after a state trial court ruled that they do not contain “sensitive or personal” information that would exempt them from the Kansas Open Records Act.

Sep. 27, 2004 — The University of Kansas released its athletic director Lew Perkins’ employment contracts last week, revealing a retention clause that had not previously been disclosed. The retention clause will pay him a $1.3 million bonus if he remains with the publicly funded university through June 30, 2009.

Earlier in the week, a Kansas trial court had granted the news media access to the contracts pursuant to the Kansas Open Records Act.

Since January, media plaintiffs World Company, The Associated Press, and the Kansas Press Association submitted a series of requests for employment agreements between the University of Kansas and Perkins.

The media outlets sued the university after it refused to disclose the documents. The university claimed that because the contracts bore Perkins’ name, they were “individually identifiable documents” and exempt from the open records law. An exemption to the law says “a public agency shall not be required to disclose . . . individually identifiable records pertaining to employees.”

Douglas County District Judge Jack Murphy ruled that the university’s definition of an exempt “individually identifiable record” was too broad; “Otherwise, any document with an employee’s name on it . . . would fall under this exclusion.”

Kansas law explicitly states that exemptions to the open records law should only apply if “[t]he public record is of a sensitive or personal nature,” and Judge Murphy concluded that it is this inquiry that determines which “individually identifiable records” are exempt from disclosure. He ruled that “the agreements do not contain private or sensitive information about Perkins,” and therefore must be disclosed.

“[A]n expenditure of public funds through an employment contract cannot be considered exempt,” he said, and “nondisclosure in this case is exactly the type of situation the [Kansas] legislature intended to prevent with the passage” of the Kansas open records law.

Upon his contracts’ release, Perkins said that he believed that they should have been made public a long time ago, “but there were other issues that would affect all state employees that the chancellor was trying to defend.”

(World Company v. The Univ. Of Kansas, Media Counsel: Gerald Cooley and Michael Merriam, Topeka) RL

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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