By Topeka Capital-Journal, Nov. 9
A Shawnee County District Court judge on Friday fined the Kansas Corporation Commission $500 for violating the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
The court’s ruling was the correct one and the fine, the maximum allowed by law, was justified. Far too often, violators of KOMA are simply told to go and sin no more. The fine levied in this case was a welcome, and deserved, deviation from that practice.
Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor brought the case against the KCC after the Citizen Utility Rate Payer Board filed a complaint about its practice of “pink sheeting” — in which staff members meet with the three commissioners individually to get their opinions before writing public orders — contending it was a violation of the open meetings act.
The KCC regulates the electricity, natural gas, oil, telephone and transportation industries in the state.
Taylor deserves kudos for filing the case and bringing an end to the practice. The commission acknowledged a technical violation of KOMA and the court Friday ordered it to refrain from further use of the procedure.
In his comments the court’s decision, however, Taylor declined to address a new “open meetings” policy the KCC staff has drafted since the agency became embroiled in controversy over its “pink sheeting” procedure. His reluctance to discuss the agency’s new policy is understandable given it wasn’t part of the lawsuit and hasn’t even been approved by the commissioners, who have decided to allow public comment on the policy before voting on it.
Taylor said the court’s action satisfactorily resolved the case filed against the KCC and he remained hopeful the agency’s willingness to revise its policies related to KOMA boded well for open and transparent conduct in the future.
It is difficult for others to remain “hopeful,” however, given the policy commissioners are considering gives them much leeway to conduct much of the public’s business in secrecy under the guise of quasi-judicial deliberations.
Statutes governing the KCC do, indeed, recognize the agency has a quasi-judicial function, but the policy now under consideration has stretched the definition of quasi-judicial to a point that allows commissioners to conduct behind closed doors deliberations that until now have been conducted in public.
It has become clear to many that the current commissioners prefer secrecy to sunshine, and there’s simply no reason that an agency whose commissioners are appointed by the executive branch of state government needs to do so much of its work beyond the public’s view.