No, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority is not above the law.
That fact must be made clear to its management and governing board, even if proving the point requires congressional action.
Because there is no way that an agency funded by taxpayer dollars should be unaccountable to the public. Meetings must be open, and records must be made available.
Yet KCATA officials apparently believe otherwise. They’ve implemented a take-it-or-leave-it approach to complying with open records and open meetings laws, suggesting that they can essentially opt out when it suits them.
In January, the bus system’s board gave itself leeway to exempt the agency from open records laws that public entities abide by. Requests for information are now being denied because the agency says the fact that it was created by a bi-state compact means it’s not bound by disclosure laws.
So what else does the KCATA think it can sidestep? Does the bi-state loophole allow the transit agency to unilaterally pick and choose which laws to follow — and which to ignore?
State and federal regulations that protect the safety of its riders? Fair wage rules for employees?
A request for information about a lawsuit settlement brought this policy to light, but the potential ramifications are much broader than keeping this particular payout a secret.
The Star sought details about a six-figure settlement paid to a former human resources director who had questioned how the transit authority was investigating other employees who allegedly were stealing parts and tools from the bus system. The request for documents was denied, with officials citing the new policy on disclosure.
The case involved the St. Louis transit agency, Bi-State Development. The judge cited the fact that one partner in the compact, the state of Illinois, hadn’t agreed to abide by Missouri laws when the Bi-State Development was created.
An interesting loophole, to be sure.
But open records and open meetings laws exist for many good reasons, primarily to protect the public good.
The transit authority’s new policy maintains that the KCATA will merely be “guided” by open records and meetings laws. As if the standards of good governance are discretionary. But only for them.
The transit authority’s anti-transparency policy must be rescinded. And the legal loophole that has been uncovered must be closed by whatever means necessary.