By: John Hanna, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Fourteen news organizations sued Gov.-elect Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday, seeking to make meetings of teams she appointed to review state government open to the public.
The news organizations — The Associated Press, the Kansas Press Association, the Kansas Association of Broadcasters, and 11 newspapers — filed suit in Shawnee County District Court.
“All Kansans have a right to know about their government,” said Paul Stevens, the AP bureau chief for Kansas and Missouri. “Public officials must not hide the public’s business behind a veil of secrecy.”
Sebelius said her transition has been more open than any other. She has appointed five teams to review state agencies and plans to name a sixth to examine education.
She also said she is trying to balance the need for openness with the need for frank discussions about government. “I don’t think there is a lot of doubt that having every comment recorded and played back in a media forum can have a chilling effect on people’s willingness to be very blunt and candid,” Sebelius told the AP.
The governor-elect also noted that she has established a toll-free telephone hot line to take suggestions and is receiving letters and e-mails from Kansans. She said her aides have received nearly 1,500 ideas.
“We strongly believe, with the support of the attorney general’s office, that we are following the law,” Sebelius said.
The lawsuit names Sebelius and her transition office as defendants and also asked Judge Eric Rosen to order the review teams to comply with the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
Rosen scheduled a hearing for Dec. 12.
Rick Thames, editor of The Wichita Eagle, one of the plaintiffs, noted the review teams will be recommending where to cut government spending.
“It’s important work,” Thames said. “It ought to be done in full public view. Otherwise, people are going to have a lot of questions later about why these task forces targeted some areas for cuts while passing over others.”
Other newspapers involved in the lawsuit are The Topeka Capital-Journal, The Hutchinson News, The Garden City Telegram, The Hays Daily News, The Chanute Tribune, The (Pittsburg) Morning Sun, Lawrence Journal-World, The Ottawa Herald, The Salina Journal, and Parsons Sun.
The case is The Associated Press et al vs. Kathleen Sebelius, Case No. 02-C-1583.
On the Net:
Shawnee County District Court: http://www.kscourts.org
Sebelius transition team: http://www.ksgovernor.com