For as many years as anyone can count, cities in Kansas have been required to publish whatever ordinances they enact.
After years of heated lobbying, primarily by interests in suburban Kansas City, our legislators and governor caved in this spring and did away with decades of tradition.
House Bill 2166, effective July 1, allows cities to stop publishing ordinances in independent publications, where average citizens can find and read them. Instead, cities are allowed to publish single-phrase summaries of new laws and point citizens to the full text on websites that the cities control and can alter at any time.
True, ordinances often are dull reading, and it costs money to publish them. However, requiring the full text of ordinances to be published in a place the city itself does not control was an important safeguard.
By the city’s own admission, the City of Marion website is a jumbled mess that excludes ordinances that have been passed, includes ordinances that have been repealed, and generally can’t be trusted to be an authoritative source for what’s the law and what isn’t.
It isn’t just the website that’s the problem. The city itself seems to have trouble finding or remembering its own ordinances, as was recently demonstrated when the city administrator violated one of them by restoring twice-weekly trash pickup without first asking that an ordinance, passed just a year earlier and allowing for only once-weekly pickup, be repealed.
The mistake was promptly corrected, but only because a printed copy of the ordinance could be found in the archived pages of this newspaper. The city’s website played no role.
This week, the city is taking advantage of the new loophole allowing publication of summaries only. If you pay very close attention — they are quite small — you will find them in our Classified section even though, by rights, we could have refused to publish them because the city missed deadline for this week’s paper.
When our paper hits the street, we will be checking the city’s website to see whether the ordinances actually got posted there. The new law requires that “a reproduction of the original ordinance is available for a minimum of one week following the summary publication in the newspaper.” As of this writing, a workday after the summaries were sent to us, the full text could not be found online.
One week to remember to check a website, which half the city can’t do anyway because it chose not to pay for Internet access, isn’t exactly the type of permanence and prominence we have grown to expect from city ordinances.
Yes, we at the newspaper have a vested interest. Printing a summary instead the full ordinance means we will get less revenue, which in turn will give the city more to spend on outside consultants and lobbyists to figure out other ways in which it can save money by cutting out local businesses.
However, this is more than just a matter of sour grapes or the city trying to hurt us financially for covering controversial news. Local government is supposed to be better than distant government because it is closer to the people, helps support local businesses, and engages citizens more intimately.
We seriously doubt that you, the reader, would continue to support us if we published only a slip of paper each week, saying that there was a lot of news; go to our website or drop by our office and read it.
Why should government be able to get away with something you wouldn’t allow anyone else to do?
— ERIC MEYER