With all the attention presidential candidate Hillary Clinton garners for sending and receiving public business emails on a private server while Secretary of State, you would think somebody at the national level would be demanding change.
Instead of focusing all the attention on how much trouble the former Cabinet member should get in for what appears to be a common albeit ill-advised practice, either Congress or one of the hopefuls to occupy the Oval Office should be pushing for a blanket policy to ban conducting public business via private communication devices.
We won’t hold our breath.
But there does appear to be at least some traction for such a law change here in Kansas. The Senate Judiciary Committee will be hearing testimony today on a bill which would close that particular loophole in the Kansas Open Records Act.
A national study by the Center for Public Integrity last year gave Kansas an “F” when it comes to transparency. One of the primary reasons listed was that state officials could — and frequently do — conduct public business on private emails. The most notable example cited was state Budget Director Shawn Sullivan’s sending draft copies of the upcoming budget to conservative lobbyists seeking input.
While Sullivan, Gov. Sam Brownback and others initially claimed it was a necessary expediency because of the holidays, it became clear later that officials had access to the public server — they simply chose not to utilize it.
It appears the Kansas example was the same as the Clinton scenario. In our minds, neither should be allowed.
In Topeka, we’re optimistic as members of both parties are starting to sign a pledge drafted by the new nonprofit Open Kansas group calling for legislation to increase government accountability. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, Reps. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, and John Wilson, D-Lawrence, became the first two lawmakers to sign the pledge.
We generally are not impressed with pledges by politicians. Generally they are political ploys designed to make themselves look good — and often can back lawmakers into a corner with no room to negotiate.
In this case, however, the situation is rather black and white. Either one is for making state government transparent and accountable to the people, or they are not. Either one is willing to make private emails, text messages and other communiqués subject to the Kansas Open Records Act if it concerns public business — or they are not.
The majority of the Legislature is spending a lot of time debating and passing unnecessary legislation while the powers-that-be figure out the budget. Forcing state government to be transparent and accountable is worth the time.
Either ban the use of private communications or make them available for inspection. Kansans deserve no less.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry