Kansas governor nixes meetings legislation

Tuesday, May 26, 1998

Kansas Gov. Bill Graves recently vetoed a bill that would have allowed public officials to discuss government business through a series of phone calls, saying such action directly violates the state’s Open Meetings Act.

“An open, above-board discourse is a vital component of our governing process,” Graves wrote in announcing his veto. “In matters of public business, the public has a right to be present during the decision-making process.”

The state Legislature, meeting today for the mostly ceremonial adjournment of the session, didn’t attempt to save the bill. A two-thirds majority vote by both the House and Senate is required to override a gubernatorial veto.

The bill came in response to a non-binding legal opinion issued by state Attorney General Carla Stovall, which said calling trees violate the Open Meetings Act because a majority could eventually discuss business outside of a public meeting.

“Government business is being conducted, and the intent of the law is that such discussions be open to the public,” Stovall said in her opinion.

The state Legislature approved the bill, believing it would trump Stovall’s opinion.

The bill, if Graves had signed it, would have allowed public officials to use a series of phone calls, or calling trees, to conduct business as long as the intent wasn’t to circumvent other aspects of the state Open Meetings Act.

Vince Cook, a state representative who also serves on the Topeka City Council, said the governor’s veto “will prevent us from discussing anything among ourselves. That’s going to affect everything we do.

“Individual discussions among city governing board members is a common practice,” Cook told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “It’s a method of getting information together ahead of time. It’s going to take a lot more time to conduct our city business because we’ll have to wait until committee meetings or meetings of the full council.”

Graves wrote in announcing the veto that the state Open Meetings Act sufficiently addresses how local councils should handle such meetings.

He wrote: “A series of meetings must be open to the public in situations where: 1) each individual meeting involves less than the number of people required for the organization to conduct business; and 2) the collective total of participants in a series of meetings is equal to or greater than the number of people required for the organization to conduct business.”

But Graves said he acknowledged that Stovall’s ruling has caused confusion.

“If legislation is necessary next session to further clarify the intent of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, I would encourage that it be accomplished in a thoughtful process which includes input from all affected parties,” he said.