Thursday, November 16, 2017

That’s The Matter With Kansas

What Sam Brownback has done in Kansas, Trump would like to do with America.

The statement was simple. Factual.

A Kansas spokesperson was acknowledging that the state highway department didn’t have the money to rebuild a dangerous stretch of Interstate 70 that had been the scene of multiple wrecks and a grisly motorcycle fatality caught on video.

“KDOT has lost a lot of money over the last few years,” the spokesperson said. “There’s just no funding at this point.”

Simple, yes. But in Gov. Sam Brownback’s cash-strapped administration, those were fighting words. Days later, the spokesperson was fired.

“Your article was the nail in my coffin for being the face of KDOT,” the spokesperson said in an email to The Kansas City Star.

The terminated employee, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, had learned what it meant to cross the line — the one where the state of Kansas doesn’t discuss public business with Kansans.

Kansas runs one of the most secretive state governments in the nation, and its secrecy permeates nearly every aspect of service, The Star found in a months-long investigation.

From the governor’s office to state agencies, from police departments to business relationships to health care, on the floors of the House and Senate, a veil has descended over the years and through administrations on both sides of the political aisle.

“My No. 1 question to anybody who opts in favor of nondisclosure is, ‘What are you trying to hide from us?’  ” said former Rep. John Rubin, a Johnson County Republican, calling Kansas “one of the most secretive, dark states in the country in many of these areas.”

What’s hidden are stories of regular Kansans who have suffered inside the silence.

In the course of its investigation, The Star found that:

▪ Children known to the state’s Department for Children and Families suffer horrific abuse, while the agency cloaks its involvement with their cases, even shredding notes after meetings where children’s deaths are discussed, according to a former high-ranking DCF official. One grieving father told The Star he was pressured to sign a “gag order” days after his son was killed that would prevent him from discussing DCF’s role in the case. Even lawmakers trying to fix the troubled system say they cannot trust information coming from agency officials.

▪ In the past decade, more than 90 percent of the laws passed by the Kansas Legislature have come from anonymous authors. Kansans often had no way of knowing who was pushing which legislation and why, and the topics have included abortion, concealed weapons and school funding. Kansas is one of only a few states that allow the practice.

▪ When Kansas police shoot and kill someone, law enforcement agencies often escape scrutiny because they are allowed to provide scant details to the public. The release of body-cam video has become common practice around the country after several high-profile, police-involved shootings. But in Kansas, a new state law is one of the most restrictive in the nation, allowing agencies to shelve footage that could shed more light on controversial cases.

▪ Kansas became the first state to fully privatize Medicaid services in 2013, and now some caregivers for people with disabilities say they have been asked to sign off on blank treatment plans — without knowing what’s being provided. In some of those cases, caregivers later discovered their services had been dramatically cut.

The examples, when stitched together, form a quilt of secrecy that envelops much of state government.

“Damn,” said Bob Stephan, a Republican and four-time Kansas attorney general. “That causes me concern. It’s very disheartening. … It’s gone crazy.”

This is what conservatives believe is the model of how a state should be run: into the ground and in the dark.

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