Kansas Open Records Act

Wichita needs transparency from its agencies

Wichita needs transparency from its agencies

When the Wichita city council delegates spending to outside agencies such as Visit Wichita, it should insist on the same transparency requirements the city itself faces. The Kansas Open Records Act is designed to give citizens access to data concerning their government. In the words of the Kansas Attorney General, "An open and transparent government is essential to the democratic process." The preamble to the Kansas act states, "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…
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Business improvement district on tap in Wichita

Business improvement district on tap in Wichita

The Douglas Design District seeks to transform from a voluntary business organization to a tax-funded branch of government. Tomorrow the Wichita City Council will consider forming a business improvement district (BID) in east-central Wichita. Previously, city documents offered some explanation regarding the district: [1. City of Wichita. Agenda for August 21, 2018, Item IV-1. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/08-21-2018%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.] First, there already exists a voluntary organization: "The Douglas Design District (DDD) is a voluntary organization of over 300 local businesses located near Douglas Avenue between Washington Avenue and Oliver Avenue. In 2017, the DDD established a five-year strategic plan to become a…
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In Wichita, respecting the people’s right to know

In Wichita, respecting the people’s right to know

The City of Wichita says it values open and transparent government. But the city's record in providing information and records to citizens is poor, and there hasn't been much improvement. 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. [1. For example, in his State of the City address for 2011, Brewer listed as an important goal for the city this: "And we must provide transparency in all that we do." See https://drive.google.com/open?id=1xgx96BEXALDEgLBRcQdz2Kg0_W5x3e2J.] When the city received an award for transparency…
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Business improvement district proposed in Wichita

Business improvement district proposed in Wichita

The Douglas Design District proposes to transform from a voluntary business organization to a tax-funded branch of government (but doesn't say so). Update: On August 21, the council approved the formation of the planning committee. This week the Wichita City Council will consider taking the first step in forming a business improvement district (BID) in east-central Wichita. Some explanation from the agenda packet for the meeting: [1. City of Wichita. Agenda for August 21, 2018, Item IV-1. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/08-21-2018%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.] First, there already exists a voluntary organization: "The Douglas Design District (DDD) is a voluntary organization of over 300 local…
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Wichita WaterWalk contract not followed, again

Wichita WaterWalk contract not followed, again

Wichita city hall failed to uphold the terms of a development agreement from five years ago, not monitoring contracts that protect the public interest. Two weeks ago a Wichita Eagle article reported on a 2002 public-private partnership that called for the private-sector company to submit an annual report to the city. But the company did not submit the reports, and the city didn't ask for them. The city did after the Eagle inquired. [1. Lefler, Dion. WaterWalk profit-sharing: 15 years, zero dollars for Wichita. Wichita Eagle, July 8, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article160147944.html.] Much of the Eagle article described why current…
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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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WichitaLiberty.TV: Immunizations, spending and taxing in Kansas, and getting data from Wichita

WichitaLiberty.TV: Immunizations, spending and taxing in Kansas, and getting data from Wichita

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Should Sedgwick County be in competition with the private sector? What are attitudes towards taxation and spending in Kansas? Finally, what is it like to request data from the City of Wichita? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 138, broadcast February 12, 2017. Shownotes Kansans say no to more taxes. A statewide poll finds little support for raising taxes as a way to balance the Kansas budget. Analysis of proposed tax changes in Kansas. Proposed changes in the Kansas motor fuel tax and sales tax on groceries affects households in different…
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Wichita check register

Wichita check register

A records request to the City of Wichita results in data as well as insight into the city’s attitude towards empowering citizens with data. As part of an ongoing transparency project, I asked the City of Wichita for check register data. I’ve made the data available in a visualization using Tableau Public. Click here to access the visualization. Analyzing this data requires a bit of local knowledge. For example, there is a vendor named “Visit Wichita” that started to receive monthly payments in March 2015. What about payments for January and February? Those were made to a vendor named “Go…
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In Wichita, we’ll not know how this tax money is spent

In Wichita, we’ll not know how this tax money is spent

Despite claims to the contrary, the attitude of the City of Wichita towards citizens' right to know is poor, and its attitude will likely be reaffirmed this week. This week the Wichita City Council will consider approval of a contract with Visit Wichita, the city's convention and visitor bureau. Once again, citizens will be left out of knowing how the city's tax money is spent. In the past, I've asked that Visit Wichita (formerly Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau) make its spending records available. It's the same type of information that the city will send you about its own…
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In Wichita, developer welfare under a cloud

In Wichita, developer welfare under a cloud

A downtown Wichita project receives a small benefit from the city, with no mention of the really big money. Today the Wichita City Council approved a subsidy for a project in downtown Wichita. The city will lend the developer of a project at 303 S. Broadway $620,000 to improve the building's facade. The property must repay this amount through an assessment on its property tax. The benefit to the property is that the city is able to borrow money at a lower interest rate, and this reduces the cost of borrowing for the project. The agenda packet for this item…
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Simple tasks for Kansas Legislature

Simple tasks for Kansas Legislature

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: There are things simple and noncontroversial that the Kansas Legislature should do in its upcoming session. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Originally broadcast January 3, 2016. (more…)
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Empowering and engaging Wichitans, or not

Empowering and engaging Wichitans, or not

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: The Wichita City Manager says "we will continue to empower and engage citizens by providing information necessary to keep them informed on the actions their government is taking on their behalf." So what actually happens when you ask the city for data, including data that many governmental agencies make freely available? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Originally broadcast December 13, 2015.
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In Sedgwick County, choosing your own benchmarks

In Sedgwick County, choosing your own benchmarks

The Sedgwick County Commission makes a bid for accountability with an economic development agency, but will likely fall short of anything meaningful. The Greater Wichita Partnership is a reorganization of local economic development agencies. It has asked the Sedgwick County Commission for $300,000 to fund a portion of its activities this year. Those on the commission who are skeptical of GWP and its predecessors have asked for measurable outcomes of the progress GWP makes. Here is a paragraph from the agreement with GWP that commissioners will consider this week: 9. Measurable Outcomes. GWP shall be subject to measureable outcomes as…
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Wichita checkbook register

Wichita checkbook register

A records request to the City of Wichita results in data as well as insight into the city’s attitude towards empowering citizens with data. I asked the City of Wichita for checkbook spending records and received data for 2015 through September 25, as I asked. I’ve made the data available in a visualization using Tableau Public. Click here to access the visualization. (A visual guide for using the visualization is at the end of this article.) Analyzing this data requires a bit of local knowledge. For example, there is a vendor named “Visit Wichita” that started to receive monthly payments…
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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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College environmentalists use public records laws

Washington Free Beacon: College environmentalists are using public records laws to investigate the circumstances surrounding the hiring of an economist at the University of Kansas (KU) who has spoken out against wind subsidies, according to his attorney. Dr. Art Hall, executive director of the Center for Applied Economics at the university, found himself at the center of an environmentalist campaign after testifying to the state legislature that Kansas should do away with green energy quotas in the spring of 2014. Shortly after his testimony, Schuyler Kraus, a KU student and environmentalist, submitted a public records request demanding all of his…
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This week, Wichita has a chance to increase government transparency

This week, Wichita has a chance to increase government transparency

The Wichita City Council can decide to disclose how taxpayer money is spent, or let it remain being spent in secret. The City of Wichita has three surrogate quasi-governmental agencies that are almost totally taxpayer-funded, specifically Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. Each agency contends it is not a "public agency" as defined in Kansas law, and therefore does not have to fulfill records requests. These agencies spend considerable sums of tax money. This week the city will consider funding Go Wichita with a budget of $2,356,851 for 2015. That…
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