Open records

During Sunshine Week, here are a few things Wichita could do

During Sunshine Week, here are a few things Wichita could do

The City of Wichita says it values open and transparent government, but the city lags far behind in providing information and records to citizens. The City of Wichita is proud to be an open and transparent governmental agency, its officials say. Former Mayor Carl Brewer often spoke in favor of government transparency. For example, in his State of the City address for 2011, he listed as an important goal for the city this: "And we must provide transparency in all that we do." When the city received an award for transparency in 2013, a city news release quoted Wichita City…
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Where are our documents?

Where are our documents?

Government promotes and promises transparency, but finds it difficult to actually provide. In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV, I give some examples of how little information government actually shares with us, despite its proclamations. Click here to view in high definition at YouTube. Following, the script for this video excerpt. During the campaign for the one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax last year, a city document promised this if the tax passed: “The process will be transparent, with reports posted online outlining expenditures and expected outcomes.” The “Yes Wichita” campaign promised “Reports will be measured and reported publicly.” These…
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Discussion of open government in Wichita and Kansas

Discussion of open government in Wichita and Kansas

Perspectives may differ, but the point is the same -- more government transparency leads to more citizen engagement and better outcomes in communities, states, and nations. In this podcast, Kansas Policy Institute Vice President James Franko discusses government transparency with Seth Etter and Bob Weeks. Etter is the organizer of Open Wichita, an initiative to bring the benefits of open data and civic hacking to Wichita. Weeks blogs at Voice for Liberty in Wichita where he advocates for government transparency and accountability and uses open records requests to access, analyze and publish state and local government data. KPI maintains KansasOpenGov.org,…
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In Wichita, open records relief may be on the way

In Wichita, open records relief may be on the way

A new law in Kansas may provide opportunities for better enforcement of the Kansas Open Records Act. This year the Kansas Legislature passed HB 2256, captioned as "An act concerning public bodies or agencies; relating to the state of Kansas and local units of government; providing certain powers to the attorney general for investigation of violations of the open records act and the open meetings act; attorney general’s open government fund ..." The good part of this law is that it provides additional enforcement options when citizens feel that government agencies are not complying with the Kansas Open Records Law.…
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Wichita tourism plan should include spending disclosure

Wichita tourism plan should include spending disclosure

As part of a plan for spending a dedicated tax revenue stream, the Wichita city council should include disclosure of spending. It would fulfill a campaign promise. When the City of Wichita collects money through taxation, citizens have the right to know how it is spent. For the city, it is possible to view every check that is written, although the city is not able to supply this information in machine-readable form. But it is available. But when the city establishes non-profit corporations that are funded totally, or nearly totally, with taxes, different rules apply, says the city: Spending does…
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Assistance needed in obtaining records from a government agency

September 12, 2014 Mr. Marc Bennett Office of the District Attorney Sedgwick County Courthouse Dear Mr. Bennett, I am writing to ask your assistance in obtaining records from a government agency. Specifically, I asked Go Wichita Convention and Tourism Bureau for a copy of a contract the organization recently formed with an external entity. My request was declined. The Kansas Open Records Act says this in defining which agencies are subject to the open records law: “‘Public agency’ means the state or any political or taxing subdivision of the state or any office, officer, agency or instrumentality thereof, or any…
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Could lower open records fees threaten Kansans’ safety?

Travis Perry of Kansas Watchdog reports that governmental agencies fear that fulfilling records requests will cost too much and eliminate a necessary revenue stream. But there are solutions that may not be under consideration. For example, instead of supplying accident reports singly as they are requested, law enforcement agencies could simply make all such reports available. I can hear the objections, such as it will cost too much for each agency to maintain a website for the purposes of making reports available. But each agency doesn't have to establish and maintain a website. The state (or someone else) could easily…
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Kansas Open Records Act reform possible

This week a committee of the Kansas House of Representatives will hear testimony on SB 10, a bill which would make small but welcome reforms to the Kansas Open Records Act. Following is the testimony I plan to deliver. Citizens should be aware that cities, counties, and school districts will probably oppose these reforms. Testimony to House Standing Committee on Federal and State Affairs as proponent of SB 10: Open meetings; minutes required; open records; charges limited. Bob Weeks, March 19, 2014 Representative Brunk and members of the Committee: Thank you for this opportunity to present testimony on problems with…
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Kansas Open Records Act and the ‘public agency’ definition

Kansas Open Records Act and the ‘public agency’ definition

Update: The bill has been referred to another committee, and the February 19 hearing is canceled. Despite the City of Wichita's support for government transparency, citizens have to ask the legislature to add new law forcing the city and its agencies to comply with the Kansas Open Records Act. Open records laws allow citizens to ask government agencies for records. While these laws are valuable, we find that in practice governmental agencies find many ways to avoid filling records requests. Because the City of Wichita does not live up to the standards of open government -- even through it proclaims…
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Transparency groups want to know where Wichita tax money is going to promote Wichita

By Craig Andres, KSN News. View video below, or click here. For more on this issue, see Open government in Kansas. WICHITA, Kansas -- Public or private? GoWichita, Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition get more than three million dollars a year. Some of that is taxpayer money. "Why are their records not public?" asks Randy Brown with the Sunshine Coalition. "It's ridiculous because we ought to know. These are largely tax supported entities. It's our money that's being used. There's no reason in the world these things shouldn't be open." The Sunshine Coalition is…
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Open records in Kansas

Kansas has a weak open records law. Wichita doesn't want to follow the law, as weak as it is. Legislation has been introduced to correct some of the problems with the Kansas Open Records Act. Here's a portal of information on the problems I and others have had with the Kansas Open Records Act: Open records in Kansas.
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Kansas local office campaign finance reports

It's hard to obtain and use local office campaign finance reports in Kansas. In Sedgwick County, for example, candidates for local offices file reports on paper with the county election office. These reports are scanned and made available online. That sounds good. But the online system is very difficult to use. It's hard to find the reports you want to view. Until recently the system didn't support modern browser programs like Firefox and Chrome. I kept a Windows virtual PC on hand and maintained with an old version of Windows and Internet Explorer for the sole purpose of using the…
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Who is Richard Windsor?

Kyle Smith in the New York Post: Richard Windsor was the nom de plume of EPA chief Lisa Jackson, who announced her resignation last month. Why, you may ask, would a federal bureaucrat need an alias? Did she need cover in order to work on her own version of “50 Shades of Grey”? Does a secret identity liberate her to fight General Zod and Lex Luthor? Or is she, like most users of aliases, trying to hide from the law? The latter seems closest to the truth. Jackson has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but she has apparently been…
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In Wichita, failure to value open records and open government

On the KAKE Television public affairs program "This Week in Kansas" the failure of the Wichita City Council, especially council member Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita), to recognize the value of open records and open government is discussed. For more background, see Wichita, again, fails at open government.
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Wichita, again, fails at open government

The Wichita City Council, when presented with an opportunity to increase the ability of citizens to observe the workings of the government they pay for, decided against the cause of open government, preferring to keep the spending of taxpayer money a secret. The occasion was consideration of renewing its contract with Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau. I asked, as I have in the past for this agency and also for Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, that they consider themselves to be what they are: public agencies as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act.…
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Wichita could do better regarding open government, if it wants

Tomorrow the Wichita City Council will consider renewing its contract with Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau. The renewal will provide another opportunity for the council to decide whether it is truly in favor of open government and citizen access to records. Go Wichita, along with the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, contends that it is not a "public agency" as defined in Kansas law, and therefore does not have to fulfill records requests. Mayor Carl Brewer and all council members except Wichita City Council Member Michael O'Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) are…
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Wichita government’s attitude towards citizens’ right to know is an issue

At a meeting of the Wichita City Council, Kansas Policy Institute president Dave Trabert explained the problems in obtaining compliance with the Kansas Open Records Act. The target of Trabert's record request was Wichita Downtown Development Corporation. This agency -- contrary to any reasonable interpretation of the law -- believes it is not subject to KORA, even though it receives nearly all its funding from taxes. It's important to remember that while the Kansas Open Records Act contains many exclusions that agencies use to avoid releasing records, agencies may release the records if they want. The city hides behind a…
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Open records again an issue in Kansas

Responses to records requests made by Kansas Policy Institute are bringing attention to shortcomings in the Kansas Open Records Act. Those who have made records requests in Kansas are probably not surprised that KPI has had difficulty in having its records requests respected and filled. In 2007 Better Government Association and National Freedom of Information Coalition gave Kansas a letter grade of "F" for its open records law. Last year State Integrity Investigation looked at the states, and Kansas did not rank well there, either. See Kansas rates low in access to records. This week KPI president Dave Trabert appeared…
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Kansas rates low in access to records

The organization State Integrity Investigation has conducted an investigation of how states rank regarding integrity and protection against corruption. According to SII, "The State Integrity Investigation is an unprecedented, data-driven analysis of each state’s laws and practices that deter corruption and promote accountability and openness." Overall, on the "Corruption Risk Report Card," Kansas received a letter grade of "C," ranking it ninth among the states. Journalist Peter Hancock wrote the story for Kansas, opening with "Kansas has a history of enacting major reforms in the wake of scandals. But in the absence of any major uproar, the state is often…
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In Wichita, disdain for open records and government transparency

Despite receiving nearly all its funding from taxpayers, Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau refuses to admit it is a "public agency" as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act. The city backs this agency and its interpretation of this law, which is in favor of government secrecy and in opposition to the letter and spirit of the Open Records Act. In the following excerpt from the KAKE Television public affairs program This Week in Kansas, this issue was discussed. Randy Brown, who is chair of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government and former opinion page editor of the…
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