City Manager Apologizes For Handling Of Open Records Flap

Jim Colson

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Topeka City Manager Jim Colson apologized Tuesday night for not better handling an open records request that's led to questions about his commitment to transparency.

Colson addressed the issue during the open comments portion at the end of Tuesday's City Council meeting. His words echoed comments he made to 13 News in interviews earlier Tuesday.

The Topeka Capital-Journal recently asked for all emails from Colson's first 15 weeks in office. They received one week's worth with nearly all the text blacked out.

In his weekly report Friday, Colson criticized the request as overly broad, taxing limited resources.

"The demands of this type of open request ultimately waste City resources," Colson wrote.

Tuesday, the Topeka Capital-Journal printed a front-page story regarding its request and the city's response. The article cited the lack of information provided for this request and several other denials of more specific requests in questioning whether the city administration was as forthcoming with the public as it claimed.

In response Tuesday, Colson said he was shocked at the tone of the article. He said he never told the paper he would not release the emails. He said he was under the impression he and newspaper staffers were engage in a dialogue as to how to meet their request in the most efficient manner.

However, he also acknowledged the city attorney's office was too liberal in what it blacked out under exemptions to the open records act. He says there are legal issues associated with the release of information and he left the decisions totally up to the attorneys.

Colson says he will meet with staff and the paper will likely receive new copies of those emails with less information redacted.

Topeka Capital-Journal editor and director of new audience development Tomari Auinn says she stands by the general request.

"Being open with the public means more than choosing the topics you want to talk about. It means providing information about topics you don’t want to discuss or can’t control," she said. "That can’t happen — nor is the notion supported by state open records law — if the city is willing to divulge information only when it knows specifically what the media or the public want to know."

Colson says he plans additional meetings with the paper on meeting their requests.