Brownback dodges glare of open meetings law

Rob Burkett / Washburn Review

Helmut Jahn was a German architect who came to the United States in the 1960s. He once famously said, “Transparency is not the same as looking through a building: it’s not just a physical idea, it’s an intellectual one.”

Recently, Gov. Sam Brownback has been a social butterfly of sorts with a busy evening dance card at Cedar Crest, the governor’s mansion. Our esteemed governor has been busy taking politics into the back room, as he attempts to foxtrot his way around the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

For those that may not know, Brownback has been holding dinners since the beginning of the new legislative term. That, on the face of it, is not enough for anyone to raise question. The fishy smell, however, coming from the mansion has nothing to do with what’s on the menu. In what has to be more than just a coincidence, each of the last three weeks, the administration has brought members of committees in the legislature in large enough groups to constitute quorum majorities to the mansion.

Proponents of Brownback might attempt to argue that the governor is merely attempting to build relationships. If it weren’t for the fact that we now know, through the words of Kansas Senate President Steve Morris, that the governor actively advocated for positions on issues that are under the direct purview of the audiences in question, then perhaps this might be more believable.

What we are sure of is that Morris, who is more of a moderate voice on the spectrum of state politics, was not originally invited to the Jan. 9 dinner which he speaks of. Were it not for the fact that Morris showed up anyway, who knows if the content and intent of these meetings might have been discovered.

In that regard, Morris put the law before politics as he well should have. When later invited to a Jan. 23 dinner, Morris declined to attend. That a leading Republican in state politics will not be a party to an attempt to circumvent the open and fair process of governance that those others in attendance should have respected, speaks to a sense of relief for everyday Kansans. At least someone in the statehouse is willing to let people see what is coming instead of getting sucker punched with back room deals.

Brownback’s office, however, isn’t backing down, defending the dinners as nothing more than social events. His office is also defending the anonymity of members of the various committees. In what cannot be a positive sign for advocates of an open and transparent government, the governor’s office responded to an open records request by The Topeka-Capital Journal for lists of who attended these events with a denial saying that the governor’s office, “did not locate any records of the lists of guests,” according to Sherriene Jones-Sontag, Brownback spokesman.

An interesting assertion since the invitations requested a RSVP by either phone call or email. One would think that the organizers of these so called dinners wouldn’t want to rely on memorization of the guest lists, lest they pick a back room not big enough to hold all of the attending committee members.

Moving forward, The Topeka-Capital-Journalhas now sent an open records request for any emails related to the dinners, as well as information pertaining to the catering and funding of the events.

The Washburn Review supports the Capital-Journalin its quest to uncover what is really going on at Cedar Crest. If the ideas discussed cannot stand the light of day, then perhaps they are something that shouldn’t be discussed at all.