The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

January 30, 2014

Other Views: Long overdue

— Legislation that calls for more government and more government spending isn’t exactly popular in many parts of the country these days. But a bill that would allow Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to create an open government unit within his office is something that is long overdue.

Officials at the attorney general’s office, which proposes to create a two-person unit to investigate complaints about violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act and Kansas Open Records Act, say the initiative would cost about $160,000 a year. It would be money well spent.

The AG’s office now investigates complaints it receives, but assistant attorney general Lisa Mendoza says the office doesn’t have the resources to give those complaints the focus they deserve. The open government unit would change that and provide resources for an intermediate level of administrative review and enforcement of the law — a step that could avoid the need for a lawsuit.

Residents who think public officials have violated KOMA or KORA can file a complaint with their local county attorney or district attorney, or file a civil lawsuit.

The problem is many individuals can’t afford to file a civil lawsuit, and some local prosecutors don’t take violations of KOMA or KORA as seriously as they should.

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor has proven to be a staunch supporter of the state’s open meetings and open records acts — his office devoted the necessary resources to thoroughly investigate KOMA complaints against legislators and the Kansas Corporation Commission — but prosecutors in some other jurisdictions don’t have the resources or inclination to give such complaints the attention they deserve.

As Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, told members of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday as they reviewed the attorney general’s proposal, prosecutors may be reluctant to investigate complaints against the county officials who hold the purse strings to their budgets.

It is to Schmidt’s credit that he has detected a need for more participation by his office and is willing to make it happen.    — The Topeka Capital-Journal

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