The Kansas Senate in May kicked out the public to conduct a meeting. This week, we learned that the Kansas Attorney General declined to do anything about that.
That’s disappointing, at best.
There’s a pretty simple principle that government officials everywhere need to keep in mind: They are doing the public’s business, so the meetings that they hold and the documents they create are supposed to be open to the public.
That is often inconvenient to them, and that’s just too bad. Democracy is messy; dictatorship is neat and clean and efficient. Sorry, but we just have to put up with the mess.
Here’s what happened: On May 29, citizens advocating expansion of Medicaid interrupted the Senate proceedings. The Senate kicked out reporters and other members of the public, while legislators and staff were allowed to remain.
The Kansas Sunshine Coalition, a group that advocates for open government, filed a protest with the state Attorney General’s office. The AG wrote back this week, saying that it didn’t have the authority to rule on whether the Senate had violated its own rules and operated contrary to the First Amendment.
The AG’s office said it would continue to investigate whether the public was denied the right, under the state Open Meetings Act, to observe Senate business after the gallery was cleared.
We’ll give the AG a pass on the first matter; it is probably true that the Senate gets to set its own rules, and obviously the AG is not the authority on violations of the U.S. Constitution.
On the second issue, our view is that it doesn’t really matter what the Senate actually did during the time that it kicked out the public. Even if senators sat in there and played Tiddlywinks, the point is that the public has the right to observe.
Government officials at all levels just have to start with that point of view. They’ll always keep themselves out of trouble if they operate out in the open. Sunshine, as they say, is the best disinfectant.