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Jail committee violated open meetings act

Group must follow attorney general’s stipulations

The Kansas Attorney General’s office has found Marion County Public Safety and Law Enforcement Committee, which was appointed by Marion County Commission, had violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act Sept. 9 when it discussed and subsequently asked for the removal of a board member.

According to Assistant Attorney General Michael Smith, appointed groups, such as the county jail committee, are required to follow KOMA, which stipulates notifying the public, including newspapers, of approaching meetings and taking specific action during those meetings.

A second violation indicated by the attorney general’s office included two potential infractions. The first occurred when the board failed to make a motion, and enter the motion into the board’s minutes, for an executive session that stated the justification for such a session. None of those steps was taken, Smith reported in a letter sent to Marion County Attorney Susan Robson.

Therefore, KOMA was violated.

The second infraction was the topic of discussion in the “flawed” executive session; the committee discussed committee member Harry Bennett. The open meeting act allows the discussion of personnel matters behind closed doors but only if it pertains to employees of public agencies. People appointed to public boards and committees are not employees, they are public officers.

“Therefore, discussion concerning the qualifications of candidates for such appointed positions cannot take place in executive session,” the letter stated, “but must be held in open session.”

No discussion of Bennett could take place in an executive session, even if the formalities of KOMA had been followed.

Smith continued that he did not find any evidence that Marion County Commissioners directly engaged in any violation and believes the most appropriate action would be written assurances from Robson that such violations would not occur again.

Bennett had requested that the attorney general’s office investigate his concerns.

Conditions of punishment

Smith said he would like individual letters from commissioners and committee members, stating that they are aware that the committee is subject to KOMA and will conduct their meetings in accordance with KOMA.

As a part of those letters, commissioners and committee members would agree to review either “frequently asked questions” or KOMA guidelines on the attorney general Web site and if any future questions arise, they would contact the attorney general’s office for guidance.

Smith requested these letters be sent by Nov. 9.

If the groups follow the requirements, Smith said he would be willing to close the file.

What is KOMA?

The definition of a meeting is any gathering or assembly in person, by telephone, or any other medium for interactive communication by a majority of the membership of a body or agency.

Meetings of all entities that are supported by tax dollars — including task forces, advisory committees, or subcommittees of advisory committees — shall be open to the public.

No binding action by those bodies shall be by secret ballot.

Notice of the date, time, and place of any regular or special meeting of a public body, including the Marion County Public Safety and Law Enforcement Committee, must be furnished to any person requesting the notice.

Prior to any meeting, an agenda relating to the business to be transacted must be made available to anyone making the request.

The use of cameras, photographic lights, and recording devices are allowed.

Upon formal motion made, seconded, and carried, all bodies and agencies may recess to an executive or closed session.

Any motion to recess for a closed meeting shall include a statement of the justification for closing the meeting, subjects to be discussed during the closed session, and the time and place at which the open meeting will resume. The motion must be recorded in the minutes of the meeting and be maintained as part of the permanent record.

Among the matters that can be discussed in a closed session are:

  • personnel matters of nonelected personnel,
  • consultation with an attorney for the governing body or agency,
  • matters related to employer-employee negotiations,
  • confidential data related to financial affairs or trade secrets of corporations,
  • matters relating to actions adversely or favorably affecting a person as a student, patient, or resident of a public institution
  • preliminary discussions relating to acquisition of real property, and
  • matters relating to security measures.

No binding action can be taken during closed sessions.

Last modified Oct. 22, 2009

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