Nothing can reach more former and current county residents than The Kiowa County Signal, period. There have been discussions by some about the “extinction” of The Signal or the irrelevance of the 125-year-old county institution. I can tell you without hesitation that this is far from the truth.
As a matter of fact, The Signal is growing. We’ve recently topped paid circulation numbers, we’ve added three more newsstand locations in the last couple of months and our digital readership is exploding.
Did you know that we had over 35,000 page views last month?
I take a lot of pride knowing that my sore wrists, strained eyes and sunburned shoulders have contributed to resurgence in readership of The Signal.
Every week I get letters of thanks and compliments for the crisp layout, “better than average” photos and news articles.
Since taking this job on Aug. 1, I have worked diligently to build honest relationships with people, organizations and municipalities inside of the county.
The free flow of information between The Signal, county and city offices and our readers has made us truly a community newspaper.
Our cities, and their officials play a very large role in the day-to-day of the county and in the week-to-week of the newspaper.
Providing accurate and detailed information for news stories about cities and county is in direct proportion to the information provided by those government offices.
Our thorough coverage of a recent Mullinville news story was very accurate in large part because Susan Clayton, the City Clerk of Mullinville, released information properly and promptly.
Though I am sure I won’t be attending any backyard barbecues at the Clayton residence any time soon, by all accounts she adhered to the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) as we followed the city’s dispute with M.T. Liggett over Elm Street a sensitive story for the city.
I’d like to give credit where credit is due. Though I am sure at some point I was compared to a “pain in the unpleasant end of a heifer,” information requests were responded to in accordance with KORA regulations and Kansas statutes. I received responses and available information when requested, without charge.
In addition, the Mullinville City Council and Mayor Andy Kimble should also be commended, because they have yet to pass an ordinance that would charge for KORA requests.
These city officials have shown their unwavering commitment to freedom of information despite potential negative sentiment following of the release of this information.
I have experienced this level of professionalism with other offices in the county as well. Haviland City Clerk Shari McAfee has been very accommodating, although I have not had a need for the types of information I have requested from other county offices.
Carmen Renfrow in the County Clerk’s office has handled requests in a professional and prompt manner, as has the County Appraiser’s Office with the only charge coming from the cost of a sheet of paper.
Unfortunately this has not been the case with the City of Greensburg.
I do not believe the council is aware of the information crisis inside their city hall.
I have made only five information requests to the City of Greensburg since August 1, 2011, about a nine-month period.
In that time, requests have been delayed, exorbitant fees have been quoted and requests have been unlawfully denied.
Only after an excessive fee of $490 was requested for the release of a document was an October 2008 ordinance deemed “unreasonable” by then-temporary administrator Jay Newton and brought before the city council for a re-write.
It was not just the excessive fees; a city employee lied in person and in writing about the availability of a document. I was told that the Greensburg Itemized 2011 Budget was not available in a digital format. The 490-page document was “with so many pages we can not send electronic” said a city employee in an email.
I would be happy to provide any city council member a transcript of the exchange.
Following the city council’s commendable vote to bring fees to a reasonable level and at the behest of Newton the requested documents were sent within a day, electronically and without charge.
A more recent request when I asked for the employment contracts of all previous city administrators beginning with Steve Hewitt was rebuffed. It is unclear whether initial denial of the release of the documents was due to lack of understanding of which documents are required to be released, or if it was an attempt to dissuade my interest in the document.
This previous Monday a request for the unofficial minutes from last Monday’s city council meeting was also denied. The city employee who responded denied the request first saying that the city doesn’t release “unapproved” unofficial minutes ahead of time and that they are not “city documents” until they are approved.
Legally, neither of these are grounds for denial.
They city always releases the minutes before they are approved. They are released the Friday before in city council packets. There is a volume of exemptions to KORA, which does not include unapproved minutes.
It was only after a long conversation with Greensburg City Administrator Ed Truelove, and an email justifying the delay, that the minutes were sent to me, after our news deadline.
Needless to say, the city’s track record when it comes to open records is abysmal.
The city council may not be at fault for these actions, but they are responsible for them.
The council needs to take a new, fresh and forward-looking approach to the way it shares its information with people inside and outside of Greensburg.
After speaking with Truelove about this issue over the past two months I feel that now is an ideal time for the city council to vote for an open and free city government over a closed and secretive one.
We are asking the city council to approve a temporary waiver of “labor fees” for the official city newspaper, which is The Signal.
Ideally an annual vote, taken alongside the approval of the official city newspaper, will send a strong message to current and former residents that the city is for the people and operating out in the open.
Some of you will ask, ‘Why should the Signal get special treatment?’
There are lots of reasons; your grandparents, your former neighbor who moved to Colorado, your cousin who has been away at school and thousands of our weekly readers.
Information request made by The Signal represent not just the editor, but also every one of our readers, which also include state and national media outlets.
There are also 125 more reasons why The Signal is special.
The Kiowa County Signal has been a part of this community for more than 125 years. It is part of the fabric of Kiowa County. Reporting on local government news has been its mainstay and one of the reasons it is one of the only two county papers remaining.
How can a city, which lists its hometown newspaper as a community asset in promotional materials*, deny such a reasonable and necessary request?
This potential cease-fire in the war on information can prevent two tragic casualties, the reputation of a city rebuilding and the erosion of a local institution.
* The City of Greensburg listed The Kiowa County Signal as a community asset in its recruitment material while searching for applicants to fill the vacant city administrator’s position earlier this year.