One of the most difficult parts of moving from being a citizen to becoming an elected citizen representative for a city council, city commission or other appointed public body is knowing the rules on open records and open meetings. While it might have been OK before being elected or appointed to casually discuss city, county or other bodiesí concerns and policies, it soon becomes off limits in certain situations ó such as when a majority of a quorum is present.
How would an official know that? Well, itís what the open meetings rules say.
How would an official know not to hit ďreply allĒ to an email sent to his or her government or quasi-government body regarding a possible decision point? Because thatís what the open meetings rules say.
Talking to other elected officials about such information isnít acceptable whether it is in person, by text or even social media, if it becomes dialogue also known as two-way communication.
Those rules arenít just guidelines; they are the law. Several area elected bodies have been in trouble for unknowingly stepping over the line on these issues. That doesnít have to happen if elected and appointed officials are well-versed in the rules.
The Kansas Attorney Generalís Office will have five training sessions next month on the stateís Open Meetings and Open Records Act. Two of those training sessions are only about an hourís drive away ó in Topeka and Iola. The public and the staffs for those elected bodies should insist their local representatives attend the training ó if they havenít already received it ó so they are well-versed in what can and canít be done according to the letter of the law on open meetings.
The three-hour seminars are scheduled for July 16 in Hutchinson; July 17 in Dodge City; July 19 in Iola; and July 20 in Leavenworth and Topeka.
Derek Schmidt, Kansas attorney general, said in a press release that the sessions will give elected officials, the news media and the public a chance to learn about the requirements of open government laws. Sponsors for the training sessions include the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, Kansas Press Association and Kansas Newspaper Foundation.
Admission is free, but space is limited and registration is requested at Schmidtís website, http://www.ag.ks.gov or by calling (888) 428-8436. A half-day investment of time in this training is well-worth the heartache that will be incurred by those who overstep the bounds of open meetings rules.
All appointed and elected officials ó as well as the media ó need to know, understand and practice open meetings rules to ensure that the publicís business is done transparently and with full view of the public.
ó Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher