Freedom of the press is a necessary component of democracy

Window on the West
Opinion column


by Mary Rupert

The Founding Fathers recognized, when they added the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, that a free press is essential to a democracy.

We must be free to speak our opinions, to write what we choose, to debate candidates’ positions and to freely choose our candidates in order for democracy to flourish. Our American system was founded on the people’s right to a free press and free speech, and it presumes that the public will compare ideas and then choose the correct path for themselves.

We can only surmise that the frequent attacks from President Trump on the press over the last few years are designed to undermine our democracy’s two centuries of success.

Attacks on the press are nothing new – especially in dictatorships. One of the first things a dictator does is to destroy a free press and take control of all communications. Government control is censorship.

Our Founding Fathers were the opposite – they guaranteed freedom of speech and of the press because they feared tyrants.

Ben Franklin wrote, “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.”

It’s true that many of the presidents have had difficulties with the press, but most of them recognized the essential value of a free press to democracy. A lot of our presidents were not career politicians. They weren’t trying to be a king for life. They instinctively recognized that a free press is a check on a power grab by a dictator.

Here are some quotes from other leaders in history who recognized the role of the free press in a democracy:

“No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will.” – Thomas Jefferson

“The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.” – James Madison

“The freedom of the press should be inviolate.” – John Quincy Adams

“A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” – John F. Kennedy

Unfortunately, in recent years, because of economic conditions, we have lost many newspapers and media outlets that provide a mix of news and opinions, which formed the large marketplace of ideas for readers. We need more people, individuals, to step up and foster the growth of newspapers and media outlets, thus providing a stronger foundation for democracy in the future.

You can reach Mary Rupert, editor, at maryr@wyandottedaily.com.

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Voter turnout in primary one of the highest for midterms in Wyandotte County memory

The Wyandotte County Board of Canvassers met today to certify election results. No election outcomes changed. Election Commissioner Bruce Newby said turnout was the highest he could remember for a midterm primary election.

by Mary Rupert

Voter turnout in the primary election came in at 25.29 percent, the highest voter turnout in a midterm primary election here that Election Commissioner Bruce Newby can remember.

He attributed the higher turnout to voter interest in the contested races on the ballot this year, including the Democratic ballot’s governor contest, 3rd District House contest and the local race for judge, as well as to the Republican ballot’s governor contest.

Earlier estimates for voter turnout were 15 to 18 percent here. Newby said his records only go back to 1996, and it’s possible that the Aug. 7 turnout was higher than some of the midterms before then, as well.

While 25 percent is a good turnout for a midterm primary, the other 75 percent of the registered voters who didn’t vote causes him concern, Newby said.

“When people don’t vote, it ceases to be a government of the people,” he said. Those who don’t vote are letting one out of every four registered voters decide for them, he added.

Newby said with the amount of interest in the governor’s contest and other contests, the general election could see a 45 to 50 percent turnout, although that could be ambitious.

“Historically, it’s been under 40 percent,” Newby said.

The governor’s contest is shaping up to be a three-way race among Kris Kobach for the Republicans, Laura Kelly for the Democrats and Greg Orman, an independent. Orman’s petition has been verified in Wyandotte County, he said. Petitions with more than 10,000 signatures have been submitted in Topeka, and are awaiting approval at the state level, he said.

Election results were certified as official this morning by the Board of Canvassers meeting at the election office at 850 State Ave., Kansas City, Kansas. No election outcomes changed here.

The canvass meeting today lacked the drama that was seen on Monday in Johnson County and Sedgwick County, where the numbers of provisional votes were in the thousands and results affected a very close Republican governor’s race between incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer and challenger Kris Kobach. After those results came in from provisional ballots in Johnson and Sedgwick counties, Colyer conceded the race on Tuesday evening.

In Wyandotte County, Kobach received 30 more votes today while Colyer picked up 18 more. Newby said that Colyer knew on Tuesday there were not enough votes left to count in Wyandotte County and other counties that would change the outcome of the election. The official total in Wyandotte County was 2,824 for Kobach and 1,598 for Colyer.

While Wyandotte County had over 400 provisional ballots considered today, a little over 260 votes were added to the official total here. A little over 160 provisional ballots were not counted.

Newby today praised his staff, saying that there were many mistakes reported in other counties, but “we got it right here.”

Newby went over the categories of provisional ballots, explaining the circumstances to the Board of Canvassers, which today included five Unified Government commissioners, as well as others.

For the most part, some of those who voted provisional ballots seemed a bit confused, going to the wrong polling place or voting at the wrong precinct after changing their address, and those ballots were counted. But state representative votes were eliminated if the voter cast a ballot for the wrong district.

Six people were couples in households who signed each other’s mail ballot envelope by mistake, and the Board of Canvassers agreed to count those votes today.

One 68-year-old person voted twice, once by mail and once in person at the polling place, the election commissioner said, and one ballot was not counted.

The only item where the Board of Canvassers reversed the election commissioner’s recommendation was where two voters voted a question-only ballot, then they decided they also wanted to vote a party ballot. The election commissioner had recommended only counting the question-only ballot because that is the first ballot the voters requested. However, the Board of Canvassers decided to count the votes on the other ballot as well, but only counting one sales tax vote per person.

The largest category of votes that were denied, 66 votes in all, was from voters who were not registered to vote. Twenty ballots were not counted because the voters did not sign the affidavit.

Also not counted were 43 Democratic voters who tried to vote a Republican ballot, 14 Republicans who tried to vote a Democratic ballot, one Libertarian who tried to vote a Democratic ballot, and two Libertarians who tried to vote a Republican ballot. Members of parties who want to vote in the other party’s primary must change their party affiliation by June 1, according to the state law.

In addition, one unaffiliated voter who voted a Democratic ballot was not counted because the voter did not affiliate with a party, and two unaffiliated ballots were not counted because they voted a Republican ballot but had affiliated with the Democratic Party. The unaffiliated voters are allowed by law to declare a party at the time of the primary, and vote in that party’s election.

There also was one ballot that was not counted because a Bonner Springs resident voted a sales tax-question only ballot for Kansas City, Kansas.

Three voters failed to provide identification before the voter canvass, and their ballots were not counted. The election office contacts those voters to give them the chance to bring their ID to the election office before the day of the canvass.

Poll workers may have made a mistake on two ballots with the sales tax question, where the voter was at the correct precinct, but was asked to vote a provisional ballot, according to Newby. Those two votes were counted today.

Commissioner Jim Walters asked Newby why voters couldn’t vote at any precinct, instead of just at one precinct, on election day. Newby said there would have to be a change in laws to allow that. In advance voting, only touch screens are used at three voting locations. The touch screen machines will show if a voter has already checked in at another polling place, and they will be able to provide the specific ballot for that voter. It would be very expensive to provide paper ballots at each precinct for every different state representative or other board’s district in the county, according to Newby.

Newby said in answer to a question from Commissioner Tom Burroughs that it was more difficult this year to find polling places. Argentine Recreation Center had other commitments, and the election office had to scramble to find another place that was ADA accessible.

Schools are concerned about the safety of children on election day, and if election day were to become a school holiday, perhaps they might be able to use some school buildings for voting, Newby said. The election office is paying a fee to use buildings for voting, he said, and one price that was sought for one building’s use was $500.

The election office formerly used a Kansas Speedway building for advance voting, but they were told that the building now is being used for other events including Speedway events and American Royal barbecue events, and it is not available any more, he said.

The official vote totals for the three-eighths-cent sales tax question in Kansas City, Kansas, were 10,710 yes to 6,909 no, for 60.79 percent approval.

The official vote totals for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Representative, 3rd District, in Wyandotte County were Brent Welder, 7,641, Sharice Davids, 4,384, Tom Niermann, 1,027, Sylvia D. Williams, 592, Mike McCamon, 494, and Jay Sidie, 314. Davids won the district-wide nomination, when votes were added from Johnson and Miami counties.

Official vote totals for the Wyandotte County District Court judge, Division 5, contest were Tony Martinez, 5,366, Jane Sieve Wilson, 4,789, and Mike Nichols, 3,565.

Provisional votes that were recommended not to count in Wyandotte County.
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Old issues surface at new superintendent’s first meeting

Dr. Charles Foust thanked district employees, board members and others for their kindness. He arrived here last week in time for the first full day of school on Aug. 13. (Staff photo)

by Mary Rupert

The first regular Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education meeting under Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust went smoothly for about 95 percent of the Aug. 14 meeting, but toward the end, an old issue resurfaced with a board split on the issue of a compliance audit.

“Thank you for the kind gestures that have been made toward me,” Dr. Foust told the board and audience early in the meeting at the district’s Central Office at 2010 N. 59th St. About 50 people attended the meeting. Since arriving last Tuesday, he has been going nonstop to make sure everything was in place, he said. The first full day of school in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools was Monday, Aug. 13.

“It has just been an outpouring of kind spirits,” he said about his welcome by everyone at the district.

Dr. Foust most recently served in the Union County Public Schools in Monroe, North Carolina. Before that he was with the Houston (Texas) Independent School District. He has served as a classroom teacher, principal and administrator. He has turned some low-performing schools into award winners.

Toward the end of the Aug. 14 meeting, the board approved an addition to the compliance audit of administrative staff with Corporate Integrity Systems. The board previously approved an $85,000 contract with CIS on June 2. The contract addition approved tonight defined administrative positions as all personnel positions that were not teachers, police officers or library employees.

The addition also required all district employees and contractors to cooperate with the audit. CIS will have access to all personnel files and access to payroll information.

Another addition to the contract stated that while CIS will have access to the information, the information will be kept confidential.

Board member Janey Humphries brought up the concerns of some employees and community members about a compliance audit at the Aug. 14 meeting. (Staff photo)

Board member Janey Humphries said she had been contacted by community members and district employees who had concerns about the compliance audit. She said employees are concerned about an outside entity having access to their personnel records, which includes their health records, information such as their Social Security numbers, plus any reports or complaints that may have been made against them in the past. She said they were concerned about data leaks.

The audit’s purpose was to have found if recruitment, hiring and compensation for administrative positions were in compliance with the board’s policies.

Humphries said she had believed this audit was for the top administration positions, including those who managed other people. But the definition approved tonight stated that all positions except teachers, police officers and library employees are administrative positions subject to the audit. That includes such positions as bus drivers, food service workers, paraprofessionals, information technology and custodial workers.

She said she also was concerned that the no-bid contract with CIS doesn’t have stated objectives, something that the district requires of its own teachers. Humphries’ full statement is at the end of this story.

Employees are perceiving this audit as a threat, she said, and are afraid they will lose their jobs if they don’t answer their questions.

Humphries said the board members should be policy-makers, not administrators. They should respond to the recommendations of the superintendent and the administrators, she said.

“We need to step back and let the superintendent do his job,” Humphries said. “I will be voting no.”

Dr. Valdenia Winn, board president, said this is a compliance audit. The district has regular financial audits. A confidentiality agreement is in place.

The board followed the board’s policy when they considered it and hired them, she said. The board has the authority to hire consultants, she said.

During the meeting, Dr. Foust reassured the employees that no one would be terminated from the findings of the audit.

“What we will do is look at the facts that are brought forward, make sure the policies were followed, in the event they were not, we would allow folks time to get the credentials that are needed,” Dr. Foust said.

Four board members voted in favor, Humphries voted against it, while Brenda Jones and Maxine Drew abstained from the vote. The board clerk said the abstentions would be recorded as no votes, for a 4-3 vote.

After the meeting, Dr. Winn explained why the board wanted a compliance audit.

“We want to see if our job descriptions fit our needs. If people in those positions have the credentials, the salary is consistent, is it adequate, and that all the hiring, promotion policies fit our board policies,” Dr. Winn said.

“It’s not threatening, it’s an assessment of the hiring, promotion, salary practices, if they’re consistent with our policies,” she said.

The audit will include positions such as bus drivers in the event they want to evaluate the district’s transportation system, not to specifically evaluate bus drivers, but to be broad enough to get the job of the compliance audit done, according to Dr. Winn.

The library is currently undergoing its own evaluation, she said. Teachers have negotiated their own system, where their qualifications may include a certain number of college credits.

“The police officers (the school district has its own police force), we felt that this was a separate unit,” Dr. Winn said.

“What concerns me is the fear factor,” Dr. Winn said. “When organizations go through strategic planning or evaluation, the fear of the unknown is difficult to understand. Yet we want to reassure, like the superintendent said, no one is looking to fire people.”

If a person is in a position that is not consistent with policies, promotion or job description, there has to be consideration for it, she said. Are they good at their job, did the job require them to get management training, she asked. The district may give them the opportunity to get training, she said.

“The staff is concerned, and we respect that,” Dr. Winn said. “But when financial auditors come in here, nobody screams.”

The board also went into a closed, executive session at the Aug. 14 meeting to discuss superintendent goals with Dr. Foust.

In other action, the 2018-2019 budget passed, with no comments from the public during a public hearing.

Janey Humphries’ statement at the Aug. 14 board meeting:

From the contract: Whereas, the KCKPS School Board approved a contract with Corporate Integrity Systems, LLC (“CIS”), to conduct an audit of the compliance and implementation of Board adopted policies as they relate to the recruitment, hiring, and assignment of compensation for administrative positions;

“I struggle with understanding the question that we are trying to answer?

“Clearly there is a desire to expand the current audit to include non-administrative positions. Why?

From contract addendum:

1. Definition of Administrative Positions. “Administrative positions” shall include all positions considered administrative, including but not limited to Officers, Directors, Executive Directors, Coordinators, Instructional Coaches, Technicians, Bus Drivers, and Administrative/Board support. Administrative positions include all positions referred to as the “Administrative tier.” Administrative tier positions include all personnel positions at KCKPS except teachers, police officers, and library employees. Why are these three exempt?

“In general administration includes the superintendent’s council, executive directors, directors, coordinators, managers, principles, and assistant principals.
These positions are charged to manage programs, and evaluate employees.

“Administration are positions that manage and evaluate programs and staff. Instructional coaches and bus drivers, nutritional service workers, IT, shop and custodial, paraprofessionals, etc.. These positions do not evaluate or manage programs.

“If we’re trying to understand the cost of administration in the district, we should use the definition that is required by the state accounting system.

“Efficiency studies have been conducted by the Kansas legislative post audit of the district. Have we reviewed the results? Would it not be practical, and prudent, to review this report to determine whether or not the district is overstaffed with administrative positions?

“We received a report at the June 26th, 2018 BOE Mtg under Superintendent’s Communications from Integrity Consulting Solutions, regarding 6 individuals that Dr. Winn identified as victims of discrimination in her April 17th, 2018 email, which found no evidence of discriminatory hiring practices. She did make some suggestions to improve communication between applicant and HR etc.

The previous contract with CIS was signed on June 2, 2018.
How much work has been done under this contract? What are the results?

“How much of the $85,000 in taxpayer money has been spent to date on this investigation? (Equals about 400 days of substitute coverage) Have time sheets been submitted documenting work done?

“Have some specific problems been identified that require further investigation?

“And if not, then what is the point of the contract addendum?

“The Board as a whole has not received any reports from this company.

“Again I would ask for clarification: what is the question or questions that we are trying to answer?
“How is the CIS inquiry expected to improve the District?

‘This contract doesn’t have parameters or objectives.

“We require our teachers to post objectives and learning goals using the scales.

“We require that because we want to be transparent, to let students and staff and parents know what is expected of students and how we will measure it.

“So what is the objective of this contract? What is being looked for? We don’t let our teachers say “I’ll know it when I see it” we make them explain what is expected and how it will be measured.

“Do we not hold ourselves, as the Board of Education to the same standards?

“Is this an effective use of district resources and time?

“So we don’t know what we are looking for, we don’t know what we will do with what is found, and we don’t even know if this is the lowest responsible price? This was a no bid contract first brought to the Board as a whole during a special Saturday BOE meeting and voted on at the same meeting.

“I have been contacted by numerous employees regarding the following:

Whereas, CIS will prepare a written report of its findings to the Board of Directors.

“What personnel and confidential information may be contained in the report to the Board? That we as a Board should not have access to?

And this statement: “All District employees and contractors shall cooperate with this Board sanctioned audit.

They perceive this as a threat, that if they give the wrong answer or decline to answer any question they fear they will lose their jobs. This is a real concern of employees!

“KCKPS shall provide CIS with… access to personnel files – paper and electronic; and access to payroll information.”

“Confidential information includes, but is not limited to: social security numbers, information from an individual’s personnel file (except for the individual’s name, position, salary, contract of employment and length of service), and medical/health insurance records.”

“As part of this audit, CIS may obtain or have access to such confidential information whether from interviews, documents or other means. How would you feel it you were one of our employees? Would you want to work in a place that makes copies of your confidential personnel file available to outside entities in this era of hacking and shrinking privacy?

“How do we know people’s sensitive information will be kept in accordance with the laws? We have no idea who will be allowed access to the information.
Can individual employees appeal for protection from sharing any part of their employment file Medical information? Anything?

“If a leak occurs, who will individuals sue? The KCKPS District? Where would the money come from to address such an issue? From taxpayer money intended to provide education for our children!

“Are District contractors, like construction companies, vendors going to be asked to provide information internal to their business? Who will do business with us?

“The Board of Education is elected to develop a mission and set policy and hire a Superintendent. Then to respond to the recommendations of the Superintendent and the expert staff they hire. We are policy makers not administrators of our school district.”

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