Archive for Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Editorial: City council correct on open meetings view

May 16, 2001

Tonganoxie City Council members should be commended for their stand Monday night on the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

During the regular meeting of the council, a motion was made to conduct a closed-door meeting to conduct interviews for several openings on city boards and commissions. It was the intent of the council to interview 11 Tonganoxie residents who had applied for membership on groups, including the tree board, the planning commission and the library board. Members of these groups are appointed by Mayor John Franiuk, with the approval of the city council.

But a representative of The Mirror newspaper informed the council that according to a Kansas attorney general's opinion, the interviews could not be conducted in a private session. The open meetings act does allow public bodies to meet behind closed doors to discuss matters of personnel. But volunteers serving on city boards and commissioners are not personnel.

After being informed of the attorney general's opinion and conferring with City Attorney Michael Crow the council conducted the interviews in public.

It is not believed that council members intentionally meant to try to circumvent the open meetings law. They acted on good faith, believing an executive session was well within parameters of the law.

Council members are to be applauded for doing the public's business in the public.

It is unfortunate, however, that Crow, who has been city attorney for more than 23 years, was unaware of the attorney general's position on the interviews. It, too, is unfortunate that attorney Crow lambasted the representative of The Mirror who brought the attorney general's decision to the attention of the city council. Crow accused the representative of making a last-minute maneuver and of not taking into account the concerns of any interviewees who thought they were going to be questioned behind closed doors. The mayor asked each of those who were to be interviewed if they were concerned about the interviews being conducted in public session. Not one interviewee said he or she was concerned.

It was not the intent of the newspaper or its representative, to embarrass Crow, the council or the mayor.

It was and will always be the intent of the newspaper and all its representatives to work to ensure that the public's business is conducted in public, whenever possible. As long as the public continues to have access to the dealings of its elected city officials, the public's confidence in those officials and in its government likely will remain high. It is when doors are closed that the public begins to lose that confidence.

The issue of interviews for boards and commissions may seem a matter of small importance, considering the many issues that face the Tonganoxie City Council. However, the council and city appointees should be aware of the intricacies of the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

The law is not designed to ensure that newspaper reporters have access to meetings. It is designed to ensure that the public does. And that's important for all citizens of our city.

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