Government & Politics

Kansas Gov. Colyer reveals steps he’s taking to boost government transparency

Colyer sworn in as 47th governor of Kansas

Jeff Colyer, a Johnson County surgeon, is sworn in as the 47th Governor of Kansas in a ceremony in the Topeka statehouse Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018.
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Jeff Colyer, a Johnson County surgeon, is sworn in as the 47th Governor of Kansas in a ceremony in the Topeka statehouse Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018.

Gov. Jeff Colyer will sign four executive orders aimed at boosting government transparency, from easing access to records to making it easier to find government meetings.

The moves are among the first significant details of Colyer’s repeated pledge to have a more transparent administration.

Colyer plans to make the first 100 pages of open records requests free. He will require government business to be conducted primarily over government email.

The orders, to be signed Thursday, also will create performance metrics for Cabinet agencies and a single website that will list all open meetings happening within the executive branch.

“This is also foundational to me in how I think we should run government. It’s just how I operate,” Colyer said in an interview Wednesday morning.

The executive orders come after a Kansas City Star series this fall that focused on secrecy within Kansas government. The stories shed light on withheld information inside the Department for Children and Families, in the state’s tax credit programs, in the legislative process and other areas of government.

House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican, said he thought he could support all of the orders.

“The broad topic of transparency has been a relevant topic for several years now, and it amped up recently, thanks to (The Star) primarily,” Hineman said. “(The Star) raised some legitimate issues about transparency and there’s interest on both the legislative side and the executive side to address those issues to the extent we can. So I’m happy to see what the governor has proposed.”

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Colyer, who became governor one week ago, plans to address a joint session of the Legislature later on Wednesday where he will further outline his proposals.

Colyer said records requests for under 100 pages — the vast majority of requests — will no longer come with a charge.

“I think that’s something we can do and we’ll have to absorb some costs,” Colyer said.

Another order will require government workers to predominantly use government email for government business. In 2015, former State Budget Director Shawn Sullivan used private email to share a budget draft with other officials and lobbyists.

A third order will establish performance metrics for cabinet-level state agencies. The metrics will include data allowing the public to track the agencies’ progress.

For example, at the Department for Children and Families, one metric might include the number of missing children in foster care.

“I want data and I want people to see that data, and that will help us make better judgments,” Colyer said.

Colyer also plans to sign an order setting up a website where agencies will post all their open meetings and applicable documents.

Rep. Russ Jennings, a Lakin Republican, said the orders were a step in the right direction, with particular praise for the performance metric.

“I think (Colyer’s) acknowledging that there are some things that we can do that will make Kansas government more open to the people and accessible,” Jennings said. “Those are good moves.”

Lawmakers have pursued their own transparency measures as well.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman has taken steps to effectively end the practice of anonymous bill introductions, and Senate President Susan Wagle and legislative Democrats are proposing to require people attempting to influence the executive branch to register as lobbyists.

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw