By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — Interested in snagging some public documents from Kansas State University?
Then get ready to take a trip back in time, because on campus in Manhattan, open records are a strictly 19th century affair.
Unless you can physically make an appearance at 128 Dole Hall, don’t expect any semblance of modern ingenuity or convenience when it comes to submitting your request under Kansas open records law. Official university policy dictates such requests will otherwise only be accepted through physical mail or via fax — a technology with roots stretching back as far as the mid-1800s.
I found this out the hard way after KSU records custodian Hanna Manning politely, yet firmly, declined my initial document request simply because I chose to submit it via email — a two-decade old technology that has been embraced by every other government entity I’ve encountered.
According to official KSU policy, “requests for inspection or copying of public records may be made in writing (including submission by facsimile, but not e-mail) through the designated custodians.”
This appears to fly in the face of the Kansas Open Records Act, which plainly states that “a public agency may require a written request for inspection of public records but shall not otherwise require a request to be made in any particular form.”
What ensued between me and Manning was what now appears to have been a debate over the meaning of the word “in.”
Manning eventually gave in to my request, but maintained her position that KORA form prohibitions don’t apply here.
“It is not the university’s stated policy to receive an open records request via email, which is a format or delivery system issue rather than a form issue,” Manning told Kansas Watchdog. “We do not require any particular form to be used.”
But state open records advocates don’t exactly agree.
“I do not recall any other record custodian taking this position. Without further research and information, I believe K-State is dead wrong in their interpretation of (state law),” said Richard Gannon, director of governmental affairs for the Kansas Press Association. “Furthermore, their position is not in the public interest and, I believe, violates legislative intent.”
The Kansas Attorney General’s office has not yet returned calls for comment questioning the legality of K-State’s open records policy.
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