Government transparency

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday March 9, 2011

Kansas legislature website. It's getting better, and now has -- by my recollection -- all the functionality of the site it replaced. But there are still some issues. The search feature uses a Google site-specific search, which is good in many ways. But trying to find if there's any legislation this year concerning sales tax? Not so easy. ... The rosters of members are displayed in panels of 12 members of a time. For the House there are 11 such panels. I wonder on which panel I'll find the member I'm looking for? ... Too many documents are still being…
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Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday February 9, 2011

ACLU leader to speak in Wichita. On Friday (February 11) the speaker at the meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club will be Doug Bonney, who is Chief Council and Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri. His topic will be "150 Years of Kansas Liberty." This speaking invitation has caused a bit of controversy, with some Pachyderm Club members -- and non-members -- criticizing the selection of a speaker whose group is associated with liberal political causes. But the invitation is in line with the club's mission of political education, as stated on the…
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Wichita school district makes transparency effort

Recently USD 259, the Wichita public school district, placed five month's of checkbook register data on its website. This is a good move, and we should thank the district for doing this. But we need to remember that the Wichita school district is very late in making this transparency effort, and the district's past attitudes towards citizens needs to be remembered. In the past, the district has made this checkbook information available each month. It was made available as a pdf document, which is not nearly as useful as an Excel spreadsheet, which is the format of the most recent…
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For Wichita city government, open records are not valued

As a condition of renewing its contract with the Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, I asked that the Wichita City Council require that the agency comply with the Kansas Open Records Act. As has been the case before, the city council and city staff say they are in favor of open records and government transparency, but their actions indicate that they are not. After my remarks, which are presented below, City manager Bob Layton said that my attack on the city attorney was unfair, that it was not he who made this decision not to comply with the Kansas…
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Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday November 12, 2010

Dilts drops campaign for city council. Jason Dilts has announced that he is ending his campaign for a position on the Wichita City Council. He had been running for the district 4 position currently held by Paul Gray, who is precluded from running again by the city's term limit law. While Dilts' politics are liberal and might have been expected to depart from those of the incumbent, Gray voted for nearly every spending measure that came before the council. ... Dilts' departure leaves this district without any publicly declared candidates. The filing deadline for city and school board elections is…
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GovTrack.us helps citizens watch Congress

The website GovTrack.us is a great resource for citizens who are interested in the United States Congress. With the rapid expansion of government in the recent past, this is something we should all be concerned with. By using GovTrack.us, you can search for bills by their bill number, words in the bill, the bill sponsors, and other ways. Once you've found the bill, you can read its text and see its status as it works its way through Congress. What's really useful is to add a tracker to the bill, so that you can be notified -- either on the…
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Sedgwick County Commission asked to make more meeting information available

Today citizen Susan Morse of Bentley addressed the Sedgwick County Commission, asking that additional information about commission meetings be made available on the county's website. At the Wichita City Council, this information is called the "agenda report," or the "packet," or sometimes the "green sheets." This is the detailed information about agenda items, such as staff analysis, maps, diagrams, contracts, proposed ordinances, and the like. The City of Wichita has been placing this information online for several years. There have been some meetings where the packet contained over 600 pages of material. The fact that the county doesn’t make the…
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Schodorf introduced bill to reduce notice of some bond sales

Kansas Senator Jean Schodorf, who is considering a run for the United States Congress, doesn't have much regard for citizens' right to know of impending sales of municipal bonds. A bill, Senate bill 154 from the 2007 session and introduced by Schodorf, is cast in the usual legislative language, and therefore is difficult to understand. So I will quote from the Supplemental Note for Senate Bill 154 as follows: "SB 154, as amended, would amend a provision of the general bond law governing the sale of municipal bonds by providing that a city would be allowed to issue up to…
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Kansas open records examined

Here's another outstanding investigative report by Paul Soutar of the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy. I have experienced some of the same obstacles that Soutar has encountered. Last year Wichita school district board member Lynn Rogers told me that record requests are a burden. Interim superintendent Martin Libhart's attitude was similarly hostile towards legitimate citizen requests for records. Indications are that new board president Barb Fuller and new superintendent John Allison have a better attitude towards records requests, and I hope that time proves this to be the case. The spirit is willing but the law is weak Paul…
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Sedgwick County checkbook now open

Those interested in the finances and spending of Sedgwick County now have more information available. The county checkbook website is at Sedgwick County checkbook. I've looked at it, and like a lot of these things, it takes a little practice and experimentation to find what you want. This marks a big step forward in Sedgwick County government transparency. Chris Chronis, Chief Financial Officer for the county, is to be commended. Other things the county does well is promptly posting the video and review of commission meetings. It's 3:45 pm now, and already these items for this morning's commission meeting are…
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