Remarks to be delivered to the December 1, 2009 meeting of the Wichita City Council.
Mr. Mayor, members of the council,
Recently I made a request under the provisions of the records act for records from the Bureau. This request was denied. The Bureau didn’t deny my request because of the nature of the records I asked for. Instead, the Bureau’s Chairman, Devin Hansen, has an understanding, he wrote, that the Bureau is not subject to the open records law.
Here’s why the Convention and Visitors Bureau is a public agency subject to the Open Records Act. KSA 45-217 (f)(1) states: “‘Public agency’ means the state or any political or taxing subdivision of the state or any office, officer, agency or instrumentality thereof, or any other entity receiving or expending and supported in whole or in part by the public funds appropriated by the state or by public funds of any political or taxing subdivision of the state.”
The Kansas Attorney General’s office offers additional guidance: “A public agency is the state or any political or taxing subdivision, or any office, officer, or agency thereof, or any other entity, receiving or expending and supported in whole or part by public funds. It is some office or agency that is connected with state or local government.”
Let’s ask a few questions:
Is the Convention and Visitors Bureau supported in whole or in part by tax funds? According to its 2008 annual report, 89% of its revenues came from the transient guest tax. We must answer “yes” to this question.
Is the Convention and Visitors Bureau an office or agency connected with state or local government? Absolutely, in terms of both funding and function.
There’s no rational or reasonable basis for the Bureau’s assertion that it is not a public agency subject to the Kansas Open Records Act.
There are two other quasi-governmental organizations similarly situated, the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. These two organizations have also refused to comply with the Kansas Open Records Act for the same reason as the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The WDDC, in particular, is relying on what I believe to be an incorrect interpretation of the law by city legal staff.
Mr. Mayor and council members, look at the plain language of the Kansas Open Records Act, as I’ve explained. Look at the intent of the Kansas Legislature as embodied in the statute: “It is declared to be the public policy of the state that public records shall be open for inspection by any person unless otherwise provided by this act, and this act shall be liberally construed and applied to promote such policy.”
The policy of the state is that records should be open. Governmental bodies shouldn’t be looking for reasons to avoid complying with the law, as has the City of Wichita and these three quasi-governmental organizations. Especially when the reasons the city legal staff has used are wrong, both in terms of the letter of the law and its intent.
As a condition of renewing the city’s contract with the Convention and Visitors Bureau, I ask that this council instruct the Bureau to follow the Kansas Open Records Act.