Advocates for open government in Kansas — and shouldn’t that be all of us? — had reason to celebrate this week when Ron Ryckman, Speaker of the House, demanded committee chairs stop allowing bills without names of the authors. Senate president Susan Wagle said she was open to something similar.
Yay, open government!
On Friday, though, state government can take another big step in transparency by keeping an entire State Board of Education meeting open to the public.
A special meeting has been called, and the only agenda item is “discussion of personnel matters of non-elected personnel.” We know Dale Dennis, the deputy education commissioner, is that person after The Eagle’s Dion Lefler reported Wednesday night that Ryckman and Wagle wrote State Board of Education chairman Jim Porter. They charged that Dennis has unlawfully allocated more in transportation funds — as much as $405 million over five decades — to school districts with larger enrollments and want him suspended.
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Normally when Kansas public bodies reach personnel matters on the agenda, they move into executive session and close the meeting to the public. But, as the Capitol press corps pointed out in letters to State Board of Education members Thursday, Dennis presents a unique reason for keeping it open.
By state law, the Board of Education doesn’t have to close a meeting to talk about Dennis; it’s an option. The hundreds of millions alleged to have been misappropriated, in addition to firestorm fanned by The Eagle’s story, created enough public interest to warrant keep the meeting open. (Wagle agreed in a Thursday afternoon tweet.)
If the State Board of Education appreciates open government, it will see that discussing Dennis’ actions, and whether to suspend him, should be a public matter. The amount of money, and support for Dennis’ work over the years, dictate this shouldn’t be hashed out privately.