Kelly: Follow the governor’s lead on transparency

When it comes to transparency, it isn’t hyperbolic to say Kansas has failed in recent years.

Under the leadership of Gov. Sam Brownback, the state received flunking grades in both “public access to information” and “executive accountability” in a 2015 Center for Public Integrity study.

Brownback and other top-level members of the administration routinely conducted state business via private email accounts.

More than 90 percent of laws passed by the Kansas Legislature in the last 10 years have been authored anonymously.

Kansas remains one of just two states in which public meeting minutes are not required to be kept.

Secrecy has festered in the Sunflower State for too long, but with Brownback off to Washington and a freshly minted Gov. Jeff Colyer at the helm, transparency advocates have been given new hope.

Earlier this month, Colyer signed four executive orders aimed at lifting the veil of secrecy in Kansas by making the first 100 pages of open record requests free, requiring state workers to conduct business primarily over governmental emails, establishing performance metrics for cabinet-level state agencies, and providing an online list of open meetings taking place within the executive branch.

Wichita State’s administration and student government association should be taking notes.

At a gubernatorial forum in D.C. last week, Colyer was asked to speak to accountability in education — something he highlighted in his joint address before the Kansas Legislature earlier this month.

“In order to get accountability, you need transparency,” Colyer said.

After the forum, he elaborated on what that transparency should look like in higher education.

“How do we move and get more information out to folks — that’s very important,” Colyer said. “So, you can get more information, then you can get accountability and get results.”

Information, accountability, and results. What’s not to like?

Here are some of the ways the university could up the ante of transparency, something that has been in short supply as of late.

Instead of disputing and redacting open records requests, WSU should readily provide pertinent information on the university’s operation and affairs.

Instead of relying on intimidation tactics and refusing interviews on sensitive topics such as enrollment, administrators should use every platform available to address the student body’s questions and concerns.

Instead of unceremoniously shutting the door on the public to deliberate on student fee allocation, SGA’s Student Fees Committee should let the very students it represents listen to the discussion of what will happen to their money and why.

When there’s nothing to hide, transparency is a win-win exercise in trust.

When there is something to hide, transparency is the only way to avoid blatant corruption.

Colyer’s executive orders have set a precedent of increased openness in Kansas moving forward, and WSU would do well to follow the governor’s lead.

Let sunshine illuminate the Sunflower State. If WSU wants to see results, it’s time for some information and accountability.

 

—Matthew Kelly is The Sunflower’s Washington Bureau Chief while he completes an internship through Wichita State’s political science department at OpenSecrets.org, a nonprofit research group that tracks money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy.