sunshine week

It’s fashionable in this day and age to bash the press, but we take exception to the administration’s response to our request that the Emergency Notification Team conforms to the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Through university counsel, the administration maintains the ENT is not subject to KOMA. It also took the opportunity in its response Wednesday, to accuse The Bulletin of careless reporting.

Specifically, the administration has accused The Bulletin of misrepresenting the time it took to issue an emergency alert after a woman was shot to death across the street from campus on the night of March 9. The administration blames the newspaper for characterizing the situation as an active shooting.

We stand by our reporting on both counts.

Here are the facts: University police were on the scene within minutes of the shooting, which was reported at 9:50 p.m. The Bulletin has footage of ESU police on scene at 10:04 p.m.

The university alert was not issued until 10:46 p.m. That is 56 minutes.

The administration is claiming, however, that the school was not notified by the Emporia Police Department until 10:30 p.m., so the actual response time was only 16 minutes.

But isn’t it common sense to gauge the response time using the time of the incident, and not when “official” notification was given? And this isn’t even taking into account that university police officers were on the scene from nearly the beginning, or that witnesses were sheltered in the science hall on campus.

Even ESU President Allison Garrett tweeted that night that the university’s response time “was little over 40 minutes from call to Emporia PD until alert went out.”

As to the active shooter, the administration is saying that the suspect was contained in the apartment across the street from campus. But, that’s easy for them to say because at the time it appeared nobody was really sure where the shooter was. Also, a definition of an active shooter is someone who is in a confined space and has demonstrated a willingness to kill. That certainly applied to the situation on March 9.

In Garrett’s tweet that night, she promised the university would review the emergency alert process. The Emergency Notification Team met March 17 to do just that, but the meeting was closed to the press and the public. The Bulletin objected to the closing, but the administration said the meeting was not subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

The Bulletin subsequently retained Max Kautsch, a media law attorney who practices in Lawrence, to make its case to the administration. On April 11, Kaustch sent a letter to university counsel Kevin Johnson, asking that the decision to close the ENT meetings be reconsidered.

Kautsch made the case that the team was a public body, as defined by KOMA, and as such its meetings should be open.

Yesterday, the administration responded to Kautsch’s letter. Essentially, it was “take a hike.”

The school doubled down on its assertion that the meetings weren’t subject to KOMA, and in addition took a swipe at The Bulletin’s reporting.

But here’s the thing. It’s our job to be a watchdogs. If the university gets away with closing this meeting, what other meetings will they close? And in those closed meetings, what happens to the people--students, faculty and staff--who don’t have someone to look after their interests? A closed government is a secret government.

If the university truly is committed to the “common good,” as so often has been claimed, then why are they afraid of opening this one meeting -- or even naming the people who are members of the Emergency Notification Team?

Here’s our advice to the administration: Open the meeting. Be more transparent. And quit complaining about how “inaccurate” our reporting is, because everybody knows it took nearly an hour for you to warn campus about the shooting next door.

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