- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Topeka Capital-Journal, April 18

Public service remains Sebelius‘ legacy:

Kathleen Sebelius, former Kansas governor and outgoing secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, appears to be stepping away from the government fray for the first time in 27 years.

Whether she plans to stay away from partisan politics and government, only she knows at this time.

However, it seems fitting now to acknowledge and applaud the Kansas Democrat’s long service to Kansas and her country, which began when she took the oath of office as a member of the Kansas House of Representatives in 1987.

Sebelius was re-elected to her House seat three times before stepping aside to seek election in 1994 as Kansas insurance commissioner, a position she won and held until being elected governor in 2002. She was re-elected in 2006 but resigned that post in 2009 to accept the HHS cabinet position in President Barack Obama’s administration. The White House announced her resignation on April 11.

Regardless of what individual Kansans think of Sebelius‘ politics or her stewardship of the offices she held, elected and appointed, 27 years of dedicated public service is worthy of recognition.

Now, she is most widely known for her stint as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and more specifically as the head of the department responsible for drafting regulations for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the rollout of the government website designed to administer health insurance enrollment under the ACA. The significant problems with the website project won’t be repeated here, and it should be noted Sebelius served Kansas long and well before heading off to Washington, D.C., when summoned by Obama.

Sebelius, an Ohio native who moved to Kansas in 1974, was serving as the state’s insurance commissioner when an Indiana company, a for-profit insurance group, made a strong push to merge with the nonprofit Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. Sebelius ruled against the merger, the details of which were heavily tilted toward the for-profit firm.

Her action in that case made Sebelius a household name in Kansas and the popularity she gained served her well when she sought and won the governor’s seat in 2002. She also proved to be a popular governor, as evidenced by her re-election in 2006, and won national acclaim in some quarters as one of the best governors in the country.

That Sebelius was able to win four statewide elections (two each for insurance commissioner and governor) in a heavily red state is testament to her popularity and service to Kansas, which will always be part of her political legacy.


Lawrence Journal-World, April 20

Regents missed the message:

The knee-jerk reaction last week of Kansas Board of Regents members to an alternative policy on social media prepared by a work group made up of faculty and staff representatives from all six regents universities was disappointing.

Although the members of the Regents’ Governance Committee were receptive to adding some language that was included in the work group’s proposal, they flatly refused to reconsider the disciplinary aspects of the policy which are most bothersome to university faculty members concerned about protecting academic freedom. According to many faculty members, the regents’ disregard for those concerns could have a dire impact on the ability to attract and retain top faculty members at the state’s universities.

In their report, the members of the faculty and staff work group did what the regents thought was unnecessary before approving their social media policy earlier this year: They looked at social media policy at public and private universities across the country to see what they could learn. What they found is that no other school applied a disciplinary standard like that imposed in Kansas except for instances that involved official university communications such as official websites or Twitter accounts.

The work group’s proposed policy achieves basically the same goals as the regents’ original policy without the provision authorizing university CEO’s to dismiss any faculty or staff member who misuses social media. The alternative policy would act as a guide for individual universities to establish their own social media policies. It encourages the use of social media to promote the university’s mission and applies “existing protections for academic freedom” to the use of social media content for academic and research purposes. At the same time, it also reminds employees that social media postings that violate existing laws or university or Board of Regents policies are not without consequences and “may be addressed through university disciplinary processes.”

The message that the regents might have taken from the work group is that the policy they passed really isn’t necessary, that adequate disciplinary processes already exist without the additional hammer the regents wanted to impose specifically to social media. They also might have simply accepted the work group’s alternative policy which helps define and encourage responsible use of social media. Instead, the regents decided to double-down on their defense of the original policy.

The regents’ original policy might be workable in a private business setting or certain government agencies, but it is not appropriate for public universities. A policy that threatens dismissal over vaguely defined misuse of social media has the effect of shutting down the core mission of a university to raise and discuss ideas and issues that are controversial and sometimes even offensive.

That is what the work group - whose members work on state university campuses every day - was trying to tell the regents, but apparently they are unwilling to hear that message.


The Garden City Telegram, April 16

Furlough fear:

The court system in Kansas already is stretched thin.

And now, state court officials say they’re unsure whether a budget approved this year by the Kansas Legislature would allow them to avoid employee furloughs.

Lawmakers sent a budget to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback that makes up $2 million of a shortfall of $8.25 million, which the court system says should be fully funded to meet its needs.

Extra filing fees also were approved in the budget, and supporters claim those fees could produce $4 million to $6.2 million during the fiscal year. But the first $3.1 million of the extra fee revenue reportedly would go to a new electronic filing system, not toward reducing the shortfall.

It left a spokeswoman for the Kansas Supreme Court to note it was too early to say whether the new fees would help avoid employee furloughs.

Such uncertainty understandably is unsettling for court employees, and should be for Kansans who depend on their services, as a manpower shortage would hinder citizen access to court systems.

Criminal matters would be delayed, and jail crowding would worsen as defendants spend more time waiting for trials and hearings, at a cost to counties.

Other problems could come in extended delays for small claims and some civil cases as more pressing criminal and child welfare cases rightly receive priority.

While all public entities have an obligation to streamline their operations and utilize taxpayer dollars in a prudent way, the breaking point comes when insufficient resources curb or eliminate the ability of vital programs to work.

It’s even worse knowing the governor and his allies pushed through massive tax breaks for the wealthy that will limit state resources moving forward.

That mess will go well beyond the court system, of course. We can expect more of the same troubling fallout as state revenues evaporate and become insufficient to maintain various essential services.

Seeing state workers face the prospect of being furloughed shouldn’t sit well with any Kansan, as many stand to be affected.

All deserve better than the trouble generated by an atrocious tax plan.


The Wichita Eagle, April 18

Kansas African American Museum took brave step:

The Kansas African American Museum made a difficult but wise decision to walk away from land on which it had hoped to construct a new building. By focusing on creating a sound financial footing, the museum should have a stronger and more secure future.

KAAM sent a letter to the city of Wichita recently saying that it was terminating its lease agreement on 1.2 acres of land along the Arkansas River downtown. The city leased the property to the museum for $1 a year in 2005 with the expectation it would raise funds for the construction of a new building.

The down economy and personnel changes at the museum hurt its ability to raise money. So after much discussion, the museum’s board of directors decided that it was best to return the land and regroup.

“We’re dealing with reality,” board chairwoman Lee Williams told The Eagle editorial board.

The museum plans to spend the next three to five years stabilizing its finances. It already has some good momentum: The museum turned a profit last year and was able to pay off its debts.

“We can build on that,” said executive director Mark McCormick.

The museum also is trying to expand its mission. In addition to wanting to have more of a statewide focus, it wants to be relevant to people of all races. It wants to help build bridges and remove racial barriers.

The museum needs to challenge perspectives, engage conversations and enlighten the entire community, Williams said.

The museum still needs a different building. Though its current facility - the former Calvary Baptist Church at 601 N. Water - is historic, it lacks the climate controls needed to properly store and display the museum’s collections. It’s also nearly surrounded by the Sedgwick County Jail.

“I love that old place,” McCormick said of the church building, but it “is really unsustainable.”

Once it gets its operations in better order, the museum will look for a new location, perhaps an existing building downtown.

McCormick appreciates the generosity of the city in providing the land and the support the museum receives from the Sedgwick County Commission. “There is a whole lot of good will out there for the museum,” he said.

He and Williams emphasized that the museum is not “giving up” by canceling its lease. Rather, its leaders are hopeful for its future.

“The best is yet to come for this museum,” Williams said.

Sometimes the bravest step forward is a step back.

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