Today the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission is holding a hearing to consider changes to its rules regarding confidentiality. James Meier of Lawrence has experience with these rules, as he relates in Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission in need of reform. Following is the testimony that Meier will deliver at the hearing this afternoon.
Subject: Proposed amendments to K.A.R. 19-6-1
Madame Chairwoman and members of the Commission, I am here to testify against changes to K.A.R. 19-6-1 in their current form.
Before considering changes to the confidentiality rules of the Commission, I believe it is vital that members publicly recognize why these changes are being sought. This is not a normal review; rather these changes are specifically being pursued to comply with a 2009 Attorney General’s opinion that Ethics confidentiality rules violate the free speech rights of Kansas citizens.
I would also be remiss if I did not publicly recognize that this very Commission handed down an unconstitutional fine of $7,500 to a private citizen who did nothing more than exercise his right to free speech. Because of the actions of this Commission, the state of Kansas now may face a costly lawsuit in federal court.
Current state statutes and regulations prohibit the public from knowing about complaints where no probable cause is found.
While I’m sure that you are confident in your findings, the fact remains that the public can not independently verify the work of the Commission. In essence, the Commission that is charged with keeping Kansas’ public officials ethical cannot be checked itself by the public at large.
With the public unable to verify that this Commission is uniformly applying the law, a huge credibility problem has arisen.
However, if additional steps were taken to increase the transparency of the Commission, I believe that credibility could be restored.
Therefore, it is my opinion that the Commission should reject the proposed changes and instead conduct a full review of all regulations concerning Commission procedures, and amend them to allow the public full review of all Commission documents after a finding of facts has been made.
It is also my opinion that the Commission should pursue statutory changes with the Kansas Legislature to allow for the public review of any and all Ethics Commission documents after a finding of facts has been made.
It is my firm belief that ultimately, it is not this nine member Commission that keeps public officials ethical; it is the people of Kansas. I ask that you make the necessary changes to allow the public to do its job.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.