By Topeka Capital-Journal, Aug. 11
The Kansas Corporation Commission has announced a change in its meeting procedures that some think will increase transparency of the agency’s operations — it regulates the electricity, transportation and oil and gas industries in the state.
Any added transparency, however, comes with its own veil, if the agency’s three commissioners want to use it.
Jesse Borjon, spokesman for the KCC, says commissioners will continue their traditional open meetings on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to consider docket items but also will have meetings, open to the public, on Thursday afternoons to handle matters related to day-to-day administration.
The afternoon meetings are considered work sessions, for which there will be no agendas. There also will be no minutes, unless commissioners take a vote on a issue before them.
All that is in keeping with the letter of the law under the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Whether it complies with the intent of KOMA is another question. The answer depends on how the commissioners use the work sessions.
By announcing the schedule for the work sessions, the KCC has complied with the public notice aspect of KOMA, but the lack of an agenda leaves citizens in the dark as to whether commissioners plan to discuss an issue of importance to them. And if commissioners are only going to take up administrative matters, what would they be discussing that requires a vote, which in turn requires minutes.
Minutes of a vote are rather sterile if there are no minutes of the accompanying discussion.
Procedures for the work sessions amount to transparency with a veil, one that it is hoped the commissioners don’t use.
This newspaper covers several local government entities, led by elected or appointed officials, that conduct work sessions — some on a regular basis and some infrequently. They generally provide notice of the topics to be considered and don’t take binding votes at the work sessions. Their process keeps them in compliance with the letter and the intent of KOMA.
The KCC previously, under much different leadership, violated the letter and intent of KOMA with a process that allowed it to approve measures, including utility rate increases, without benefit of public discussion. That process was abandoned (after a prosecutor filed a lawsuit against the agency), and current commissioners deserve some measure of credit for scheduling the open work sessions and letting the public know how they will be conducted.
But true transparency doesn’t come with veils.
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