Citizens are responsible for electing the officials who serve Arkansas City and Cowley County, but many do not know their civic responsibilities also include monitoring the actions of those elected officials.

City and county commissioners, board of education members, and Cowley College trustees all serve on boards whose actions are governed by Kansas state law.

City of Arkansas City advisory boards also fall under these laws, as do the Arkansas City Public Library and South Central Kansas Medical Center boards of trustees.

Citizens can attend any of these “open meetings,” and the law that governs what they can and cannot do is called the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA).

Meetings are defined as any gathering or assembly — in person, or through the use of telephones or any other technology — involving “interactive communication” by the majority of the board regarding the affairs of the public body or agency it governs.

Thus, city commissioners are not allowed to talk about business pertaining to the city in any setting other than an open meeting.

The same rule applies to any of the other boards mentioned.

Also, no decision requiring a vote from a board can be made with a secret ballot.

Any board that is subject to KOMA is required to notify the public of its meetings before they take place.

The use of cameras or recording devices cannot be prohibited at open meetings, but the use of those devices are subject to reasonable rules “designed to ensure the orderly conduct” of those meetings.

The only exceptions to most of these rules occur during “executive sessions,” which are limited times when a board can have secret discussions.

There are only a certain number of topics that are acceptable for discussion during executive sessions.

The topic must be designated before the board enters into the executive session.

The board must also provide an estimated time frame in which the session must be completed.

At the end of that time, the board must reconvene in open session, even if the only item left on the agenda is to adjourn the meeting.

If it requires additional time, it must make a new motion to go back into executive session for another defined time period.

The topics that are eligible for discussion in executive session include:

  • personnel matters of non-elected personnel;
  • consultation with an attorney that is deemed privileged attorney-client information;
  • matters of employer-employee negotiations;
  • confidential data related to the financial affairs or trade secrets of corporations, partnerships, trusts and individual proprietorships;
  • preliminary discussions related to property acquisition.