The invitation did not discriminate: It was sent to every elected official, appointed official and city manager and administrator in Johnson County.
Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe wants as many officials as possible to attend a training session he is hosting Oct. 18, so they can better understand when meetings and records should be open and available to the public.
The training session also will be open to the public, Howe said.
Howe decided to hold the gathering because of the number of complaints he has received since taking office. Howe said in his invitation letter that he hoped the two-hour training session will help officials gain a better idea about how the laws are interpreted.
“As you know, the Johnson County District Attorney’s office has handled a number of open meetings and open records complaints over the last four years,” wrote Howe in his invitation to officials. “Several city officials have expressed confusion over the scope and application of the … laws.”
Doug Anstaett, Kansas Press Association executive director, who says the violations of open meeting, open records laws has become epidemic, applauded the training session.
“We seem to have a lot of confusion or obfuscation from elected officials who seem to think it is okay to play dumb,” Anstaett said. “The Kansas open meetings act isn’t rocket science. It’s pretty simple, notify the public, meet in public, discuss in public, vote in public.”
Recently, Howe found that the city of Mission had violated the state open meetings law after its mayor purchased a building without council approval.
Mission City Administrator Mike Scanlon did not return phone calls requesting an interview for this story.
Earlier this year, Howe found Gardner in violation.
Currently Howe is investigating allegations that Shawnee council members may have had illegal meetings that resulted in the hiring of an uncle of the mayor’s wife for a council seat.
In addition, some government agencies have charged exorbitant prices for records, $11,000 in one recent case, making the records unaffordable to citizens.
The attorney general’s and district attorney’s offices have held training sessions on open records and meetings in the past. The sessions are an effort to avoid confusion by government bodies on the scope and meaning of the open meetings and open records acts.
This session is unusual because training sessions are usually held for smaller groups, Howe said.
The list of invitees is long, more than three pages of lists of names and email addresses. It includes mayors and council members; city attorneys, managers and administrators; board members from a number of boards, including the fire district and library; and commissioners for commissions such as the one on aging, and even consultants.
Howe said the session would be an opportunity for public officials to ask questions and “have a healthy dialogue with all parties.”
“I hope you will make every effort to attend this event,” he said in his letter. “It is our responsibility to promote transparency in local government by acting within the parameters of (the laws).
At least one citizen, Tony Lauer of Shawnee, who filed the open meetings complaint against his city, said he plans to attend.
Sean Reilly, Overland Park spokesman, said government officials there welcome the training session.
“The city of Overland Park takes open meeting laws very seriously,” he said.
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