Roeland Park City Council closes meeting to public to talk about new state law on open records; resident questions need for secrecy

Councilor Teresa Kelly made the motion to go into executive session.
Councilor Teresa Kelly made the motion to go into executive session Monday night.

Despite a resident objection, the Roeland Park City Council went into a closed session Monday night to talk about a recent change made by the Kansas Legislature to the state’s open records act.

The move into a closed executive session was the second item on the council’s workshop agenda and left the small group of residents attending the meeting rather disgruntled. As the council discussed the action of the legislature behind closed doors, the residents talked about the move to secrecy with one resident commenting on “how rude” the council action was.

One resident baffled by the move was Tom Madigan, who addressed the council before the motion. “I am at a loss on why you have to go into a closed meeting to discuss the open meetings act,” Madigan said. “I would like someone to explain why the citizens can’t hear what you are talking about.”

The Roeland Park City Council moved into closed session on a number of occasions in recent months to discuss issues often talked about openly in other cities, including a special use permit, new rules on thrift stores, and sign ordinances among others.

The justification for the closed session Monday was attorney-client privilege in order to receive legal advice “concerning a recent amendment to the Kansas Open Records Act.” Councilor Teresa Kelly made the motion to go into executive session and all of the council members present approved.

Before the council took the vote, Councilor Becky Fast asked why the council had to go into executive session, saying other cities were doing it in open meetings, calling it “informational.” City attorney Neil Shortlidge said it was to receive legal advice and he could not “waive privilege.”

When the council returned, Tim Janssen made a motion to waive the privilege and the council approved. Council President Erin Thompson then explained that the council had discussed a change to state law that would make public business conducted on private email accounts subject to open records.