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Editorial Roundup: Kansas


Kansas City Star. October 15, 2023.

Editorial: Cutting Kansas newspapers out of public notices puts all control in politicians’ hands

The City Council of Hillsboro, Kansas — population just north of 2,700 — voted earlier this month that it would no longer publish legal notices in local newspaper The Hillsboro Star-Journal. Instead, the information will get posted to the city’s own website.

No big deal, right? People who live in the small town about 50 miles north of Wichita can still read about resolutions, calls for bids on public projects and other city business at cityofhillsboro.net. Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach has backed up the city’s decision, with a legal opinion stating that cities with fewer than 15,000 residents are exempted from statutes requiring them to publish notices in the paper.

So who’s harmed by cutting out the local free press? The public — which has the right to know what officials are up to, and not just by taking their word for it. The contracts, minutes and other documents that make government work belong to the people — not the politicians and bureaucrats who write them.

And it’s one of journalists’ most important jobs to make sure elected and appointed officials don’t secret those documents away from taxpayers’ eyes. Public notices, published independently from the government, are a vitally important part of the checks and balances that keep public servants accountable to the people.

A mental exercise: Think of an elected official you particularly distrust. Imagine that person is given the key to disseminate any and all information about what he or she’s doing on the job — or keep it from you. Remember, a former Kansas City communications director alleged in a lawsuit earlier this year that City Manager Brian Platt directed him to lie about public projects to The Star and other local media.

Requiring legal documents to be published by a third party, where they can’t be altered once they’re released, provides a valuable layer of transparency.

Because if government can publish and control its own records, it can change them.

Independent proof Obama ‘birthers’ are wrong

The ludicrous Barack Obama “birther” controversy is a perfect example of the power and necessity of independent publishing. Would a president have the power to insert a phony birth certificate into Hawaii’s health department records? It’s plausible.

But birthers could never explain how contemporary Obama birth announcements appear in hundreds of extant copies of The Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu Star-Bulletin, as well as on microfilm duplicated and archived in libraries across the country. Third-party publication is verification.

If anything, we should require more printed legal notices — not fewer, and certainly not none.

We fully realize what constitutes “publishing” has evolved radically since the advent of the internet. In the days before the World Wide Web existed, classified advertising made up a sizable chunk of a newspaper’s revenue. In the mid-1990s, it wasn’t unusual to see a Kansas City Star Sunday edition with job and want ads sections that stretched to 40 pages or more.

Craigslist and the uncountable other ways everyday people can get the word out about garage sales, employment opportunities or lost dogs have altered the world of print classifieds forever. Some of that change is for the better — you can update an online posting in an instant.

And some is much worse. The Star, like all publishers, takes its credibility seriously. If we discover someone supposedly renting an apartment or selling a car is actually running a scam, we pull the ad and take steps to make sure the fraudster can’t use our pages to deceive anyone else. Online? Good luck getting Facebook to help out when a crook hiding behind a fake profile photo passes a broken phone off on you.

Of course, The Hillsboro Star-Journal has a financial interest in those public notices, which are an important source of revenue especially for smaller papers, many of which continue to struggle with the world’s move online.

But newspapers still matter. “Kansans have made it clear that they prefer public notices in newspapers,” Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, told us in an email. “Eighty-two percent of Kansas adults read a Kansas newspaper — either print or digitally — each week. The reach of a newspaper website and print product is, on average, four times more than that of a city website.”

Can this toothpaste be put back into the tube? Of course, the Legislature could update statutes to clarify what publishing means as we reach the one-quarter mark of the 21st century. Public notices belong in an independent, verifiable forum, outside the government’s control.

“Newspapers offer accountability, transparency and reach,” wrote Bradbury. “A city website doesn’t.” Kansans from towns of all sizes should demand independent verification from their elected officials — and that means showing their work to the people.


Topeka Capital-Journal. October 13, 2023.

Editorial: Kansans deserve day in court to try to recoup some of the $50M spike in natural gas prices

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach was handed a loss in federal court seeking to recover money for alleged price gouging of natural gas during the February 2021 winter storm.

The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Jason Alatidd reports Kobach lost on a technicality. He had recently fired the state’s outside counsel, Morgan & Morgan, which had been hired to provide additional expertise and resources.

The firm’s founder says they would have won had they been retained. Kobach says otherwise.

Regardless, the real losers are the Kansas residents and businesses that paid sky-high prices for natural gas during a cold freeze.

The back and forth on why Morgan & Morgan’s services weren’t retained suggests they were politically biased — something their founder disputes. Alatidd reports Morgan & Morgan’s services were initially retained by the previous attorney general Derek Schmidt for this case because of their expertise in the field.

There’s no point in playing the blame game at this juncture. From where we stand, we’d like to see the Attorney General’s Office pick itself up by its bootstraps and get to work for Kansans. They’ve been strapped for qualified attorneys to staff their office for some time now and Kansans deserve better.

Lawsuits like this can’t be resolved if we’re bickering with hired guns. It also shows future partners we aren’t easy clients. That doesn’t make the state a desirable partner.

Instead of fighting about why we lost the case, maybe we could use that energy to try again and do it right.

Kobach could potentially refile the suit. It remains to be seen if he will. We hope his office will. It seems like this should have been an easy win for the state.

The lawsuit alleged that Macquarie Energy’s actions caused more than $50 million in excess costs for Kansas consumers. Kobach previously said he was “very confident we’ll be able to get money back for Kansans.”

The lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality and didn’t address whether Macquarie actually manipulated gas prices to its own benefit and at the expense of Kansas residents.

“And plaintiff could have avoided this outcome by either filing in federal court initially or properly pleading state court jurisdiction at the outset,” wrote District Judge Daniel Crabtree in his 19-page decision. “So, the court’s hands are tied.”

There’s no point in playing coulda/woulda/shoulda. We hope the AG just refocuses and fights for Kansans as spelled out by the Kansas Constitution.