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View Full Version : Local Brownback's weekly oops...probably violated KOMA


banyon
02-01-2012, 05:28 PM
Governor's office says it warned about KOMA
Posted: January 31, 2012 - 8:48pm

http://cjonline.com/news/2012-01-31/governors-office-says-it-warned-about-koma

By Andy Marso
THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL

Gov. Sam Brownback's staff, which had previously said his "legislative dinners" were social gatherings, released a statement Tuesday saying the governor warned legislators before every dinner not to violate the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

Brownback has invited Republicans from 13 legislative committees to his Cedar Crest mansion in the past month, but his staff said Tuesday that none of the private dinners violated KOMA, which prohibits a voting majority of a legislative body from discussing government business behind closed doors. Republicans represent a voting majority of every committee in the Legislature.

“While it would not be possible for the governor to violate KOMA in this situation because the governor is not a body or agency of the state, the governor did remind and admonish everyone present at the beginning of each legislative dinner that legislative committees must be aware of and comply with all KOMA requirements," Caleb Stegall, Brownback's chief counsel, said in a news release. "The governor and the governor’s staff further explained to legislators present that they could not conduct any discussions about committee business during the dinners.”

Legislators who spoke about the dinners last week didn’t mention being warned of KOMA protocols. During a conversation in her office Thursday afternoon, Rep. Lana Gordon, R-Topeka, said House Appropriations Committee members discussed their constituents' concerns with the loss of credits and deductions in the governor's tax plan when their committee went to Cedar Crest on Jan. 24.


Gordon didn’t respond to a message left on her cellphone Tuesday evening.

In a conversation before he went into a committee hearing Friday morning, Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, said he "had an opportunity" to discuss a bill he introduced with the governor when the appropriations committee was at Cedar Crest, but instead let the conversation revolve around issues like tax policy, Medicaid, school finance and, especially, the state budget.

Rep. Jana Goodman, R-Leavenworth, was invited to Cedar Crest when the state's three education committees convened there Jan. 10. While leaving the Statehouse after the governor's statement was released Tuesday, Goodman was asked at what point in that meeting did the governor's staff warn committee members not to violate KOMA.

"I don't know," she said. "It was certainly before ... "

Goodman stopped, and she was asked again.

"It's not one of those things that was on my radar," she continued. "I can't say for sure. It's just — they're social things."

The governor's statement also said that when Senate President Steve Morris warned members of his KPERS Select Committee at the first legislative dinner, he did so at the behest of the governor's staff.

“At the beginning of the first dinner, on January 9, Governor Brownback stood up and admonished everyone to keep the requirements of KOMA in mind," said former House Speaker Tim Shallenburger, the governor’s legislative liaison. "The governor went so far as to ask Senate President Morris to assist in ensuring that legislative members not cross that line. Senator Morris agreed, and so far as I am aware he succeeded. The governor and his staff have followed this general protocol at each legislative dinner.”

After a panel discussion at the Topeka and Shawnee County Library on Tuesday night, Morris, a member of the panel, said Shallenburger’s statement is accurate.

Stegall, in the governor's statement, said that once committee members had been warned, the dinners didn’t constitute KOMA violations because they were essentially one-sided presentations.

"It is not a violation of KOMA for a majority of a body or agency to attend an informative meeting sponsored by another group so long as they do not privately discuss the business or affairs of the body amongst themselves," Stegall said, citing a 2009 opinion by then-Attorney General Steve Six. "Reasonable precautions were taken to remind all attendees of their obligations and to prevent any violations of Kansas law."

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, a lawyer who attended the Jan. 9 KPERS Select dinner, said that was his interpretation as well.

But Topeka attorney Mike Merriam, who represents the Kansas Press Association and The Topeka Capital-Journal, said the opinion Stegall cited came from a case involving electronic communication. Applying it to a physical gathering is a stretch, Merriam said.

"A member of a public agency isn't complying with the law just because that person says nothing at an illegal meeting," he said. "If one of those members goes to an illegal meeting, it's a violation of KOMA whether they say anything or not."

Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka lawyer, said if he were representing the governor, he would have advised him not to invite committee majorities for private dinners at all. He said it raises the appearance of "backroom politics," which is what KOMA is meant to prevent.

"I'm not in a position to say violations occurred or did not occur," Irigonegaray said. "But based on the evidence so far, I believe a thorough investigation is appropriate and if violations have occurred, a process needs to be put in place to make sure it never happens again."

Capital-Journal publisher Gregg Ireland has said the newspaper, in conjunction with the KPA, will file a KOMA complaint with Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor.

Andy Marso can be reached

at (785) 233-7470

blaise
02-01-2012, 05:33 PM
Really? Is this a big deal or something?

banyon
02-01-2012, 05:39 PM
Really? Is this a big deal or something?

It's a criminal act.

In any event, Brownback immediately scrambled to do damage control again, so someone there indeed thought it mattered.