Let the sun shine in

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debDeb Hadachek
Belleville Telescope Editor

A couple weeks ago I was in Wichita at a Kansas Hospital Association meeting for hospital trustees when one of the board members at my table dared to grumble about the presence of the news media at their meetings.

He complained he wanted to ask questions of hospital staff about things he didn’t understand, but was afraid of embarrassing them in front of the news media. Well, that poor guy poked the wrong bear. I delivered him my lecture that boards can recess into executive session to discuss specific personnel.But, otherwise, the public expects board members to ask questions and find out information–and if tax-supported agencies are not willing to have their actions come under public scrutiny, board members and government employees better find another place to serve.

This week is Kansas Sunshine Week, a time to bring public attention to our state’s Open Meeting and Open Records laws. Sometimes people think those laws only serve the news media. But in fact, you have every bit as much right– and responsibility–to attend meetings and ask questions of government officials as I do. Some specific data about non-elected personnel is private, but by and large, financial data, minutes from meetings and actions and topics discussed by government agencies are all open record.

No elected officials should ever be reluctant to share information with any member of the public- -and in fact, should bend over backwards to make sure that information is available. If you follow the Legislature, you’ve seen stories this year about concerns that government officials are trying to circumvent those laws, take back-door actions, and do business outside of the public view.

Shame on them.

I frequently tell local elected officials no one will ever be as mad at you for what you tell them as they will be if they think you’re trying to hide something–or that the public isn’t smart enough to “understand”. It’s important to shed a little light on government at all levels.