“But officer, I didn’t know it was against the law.”
This won’t get you out of a speeding ticket, and it certainly shouldn’t excuse law breaking elected officials either.
But this excuse worked for Kansas legislators who violated the Kansas Open Meeting Act by attending private meetings at the governor’s residence at Cedar Crest last January.
The public was uninformed of the meetings and left to speculate on the content of the meetings. Subsequent investigations by Chadwick Talyor, Shawnee County district attorney, determined that the law was violated several times over the course of the meetings.
But there’s no need to worry. It’s only a “technical violation.” Taylor decided not to prosecute. Basically, Brownback and the legislators are walking away with barely a slap on the wrist.
We applaud Talyor for investigating the meetings at Cedar Crest, but like many politicians, he lacked the courage of his convictions.
When our government conducts its voting in secret, it violates the basis of transparency upon which democracy is upheld. The result of private vote swapping, the eventual legislation passed or failed and the potential benefits to the population based on that legislation are irrelevant considerations. What matters is that our government kept the public blind to their rationale and procedure. It distanced the populace from the government in a substantive way.
It’s no secret that politics-as-usual often involves collusion, subtle and/or explicit political blackmail and betrayal. The Mayor Daley’s and Boss Tweeds of the world will find a way to infiltrate our offices. However, it is our responsibility as the electorate to cite malfeasance where it exists and remove the cancer before it spreads.
Corruption compounds itself over time. KOMA was created in order to stem the tide of corruption in office. It represents an ever eroding aspect of government in America – trust. Not just trust in officials, but their trust in us. Policy makers’ adherence to KOMA is the least they can do to assure the public that they are working in our interest. To ignore KOMA is to ignore each of us.
An even scarier thought is that perhaps they didn’t know they couldn’t meet as they did. No other positions imaginable require such knowledge of the law than an elected official. They are sworn to protect the law.
So when Kansas legislators aren’t even reprimanded for an admitted violation of the law, one can expect KOMA to be the punch line of a joke at the next private meeting at Cedar Crest.